The state has about $18 million to pay for septic upgrades and expects to raise about $7 million a year from septic fees, said Jay Prager, MDE's deputy wastewater permits manager. So far, the grants have paid for virtually all the cost of installing the new equipment, plus five years of inspection. But with requests for financial help expected to grow, Prager said the state plans to start considering the applicant's income and wealth, so that poor and retired homeowners get the most help.
A decade ago, Miller, of the extension service, headed a task force that recommended requiring the technology when Glendening tried to pass the proposal. Since then, several states, including Delaware, have mandated it at least for new homes near the water.
Miller said he was frustrated over the years at the state's failure to do more about septics but that he's "thrilled to death" now. So is Dennison, the bay scientist, who calls it a good first step in tackling the bay's most intractable pollution sources.
"This is what I hope is the beginning of a new way of doing business," Dennison said. "We can't leave everything up to voluntarism."
With many environmentalists fighting to keep state funding for key programs and to pass new ones to address climate change and sprawl, the septics bill "wasn't on the radar screen" until recently, said Cindy Schwartz, of the League of Conservation Voters.
Advocates say much of the credit for the bill's passage goes to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who made it a priority. "I live on the bay," said Miller, who represents Prince George's and Calvert counties. "The water clarity is not what it was when I was a child."
With the bay and its tributaries still in poor health, he said, "we've got to do all we can to improve the world's largest estuary."
BY THE NUMBERS
Septic systems in 'Critical Area'
Extra cost of nitrogen-removing system per dwelling
Percentage of bay nitrogen that comes from septic systems
In some rivers, septic systems' share of nitrogen pollution