A dry spell hits home construction

Drought forces officials in area to postpone tests for septic systems

April 17, 2002|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

The construction of hundreds of houses in Anne Arundel County and other areas of Central Maryland could be delayed until next year because of drought conditions that have affected ground water levels.

In Anne Arundel County, where dry weather has left wells at record-low levels, health officials said yesterday that they have canceled the spring "wet season" testing required for planned houses that are to be served by septic systems. The decision means that 200 planned houses apparently will not be built until after testing resumes early next year, said Kerry Topovski, a program manager who oversees sanitary engineering for the Health Department.

"We are in the process of notifying homebuilders and individuals now," Topovski said yesterday.

She said the testing is required to determine what kind of septic system a new house needs. Septic systems, whatever the model, must be at least 4 feet above the ground water level even during rainy months, when water tables generally rise. Rainy season percolation testing usually is performed from February to April, but because of an unusually dry winter, testing in some jurisdictions has been canceled.

Carroll County officials tested several sites during a four-day period this month but won't do more tests this year. Houses planned for sites that weren't tested can't be built until next year, a Carroll official said.

Howard County has not suspended tests for new septic systems, but developments could be delayed by the drought anyway, an official there said.

If a subdivision is planned on soil types known for higher ground water levels and data from previous years are unavailable, builders might have to wait until next year's wet season, said Howard environmental health director Frank Skinner. But, he added, developers could sidestep the testing issue by redesigning their subdivisions to stay away from those types of soils or by using shared septic fields, he said.

Harford and Cecil counties recently announced they would delay wet season testing until February, said Susan Davies, co-director of government affairs for the Homebuilders Association of Maryland.

The testing ban shouldn't significantly affect large homebuilders because subdivisions usually aren't built with septic systems, Davies said. The bans are more likely to affect individuals who want to build homes on rural lots.

Sun staff writers Jamie Smith Hopkins and Childs Walker contributed to this article.

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