Comments made recently by Delegate Mark N. Fisher [R-District 27B] regarding his co-sponsorship of a bill to repeal the Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act of 2012—better known as The Septic Bill—have drawn reaction from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF).
Specifically, the CBF took issue with Fisher’s claim that individual septic systems are better for the environment than wastewater treatment plants and that local zoning has always been the purview of local governments.
“Both claims are completely false,” CBF Maryland Communications Coordinator Tom Zolper stated.
According to Dr. Lora Harris, an assistant professor and ecologist for the University of Maryland Center for Estuarine Studies at Chesapeake Biological Laboratory in Solomons, noted the “different treatment” of sewage the two systems traditionally provide. A sewerage treatment facility “was designed to deal with a public health problem,” said Harris. “Our technology had not been dealing with nitrogen.”
Harris noted newly developed “tertiary treatment” at a wastewater treatment plant “does more to remove nitrogen than a traditional system.” Harris said those tertiary treatments could remove up to 90 percent of the nitrogen.
A measure passed in the Maryland General Assembly last year—House Bill (HB) 446—doubled the state’s Flush Tax to help fund the upgrade of Maryland’s 67 largest sewage plants. The bill, which Fisher voted against, was lauded by the CBF, which claimed the measure “will decrease nitrogen pollution by about 3.7 million pounds a year.”
While Harris admitted upgrading wastewater treatment plants was good strategy, she indicated the septic systems are the bigger culprit for nitrogen pollution. “We think about point sources but most of the nitrogen coming into the bay is from non-point sources,” she said. “A septic system, either traditional or conventional, that is working fine is still going put nitrogen into groundwater.”
According to CBF Director of Lands Program Lee Epstein, Fisher is in error with his contention that land use has always been the purview of local government.
“Land use authority in Maryland comes directly from the state, which delegates it locally,” said Epstein. “It isn’t necessarily taking away an auth