During the last several decades, many of the summer cottages that had been constructed along the Severn and Magothy Rivers were converted into year-round residences. Typically, the homes in these waterfront communities were situated on narrow lots and relied upon septic systems for wastewater removal.
As the years progressed, the number of homes in these older communities increased and, during the last 20 years, the size of many of the homes increased as well. Unfortunately, it was not always possible to increase the size of the septic systems on these properties due to the small lots on which the homes were situated.
According to the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE), older septic systems do not efficiently remove nitrogen from household wastewater. This results in a situation that allows excess nitrogen to make its way into waterways like the Severn and Magothy rivers. Excessive levels of nitrogen fuel algae blooms in the water, which contribute to reduced water clarity and oxygen deprived dead zones.
The heavy rainfall during the late summer and early fall in this area further compounded the runoff of nitrogen from septic systems since the rate of percolation of wastewater in the drain fields was reduced due the saturated soil conditions.
To illustrate the severity of the nitrogen pollution from septic systems, the MDE estimates that in the critical area 80 percent of the nitrogen leaving a system ends up in a waterway. This figure decreases to 50 percent for septic systems within 1,000 feet of non-tidal streams, and 30 percent for all remaining septic systems.
Anne Arundel County is currently working to meet its pollution reduction goals as directed by the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) mandates. The TMDL sets a limit on the amount of pollutants that can be assimilated by a body of water. Reducing the amount of excess nitrogen flowing from septic systems is an important component of meeting the TMDL goal for the county.
The county plans to reduce the excess nitrogen from septic systems by connecting some communities to its Water Reclamation Facilities (WFR), which treat waste from the public sewage infrastructure. Another treatment option is to “cluster” homes in a community to central collection point for the wastewater to be treated.
Replacing aging septic systems and upgrading water reclamation facilities does come with a price tag. Fortunately, funds from theenacted during the Ehrlich administration have helped to improve the capacity and level of treatment at a number of water reclamation facilities in the county and the state. This additional capacity can be used to treat waste formerly handled by septic systems in some areas.
However, more water reclamation facilities still need to be upgraded and new facilities constructed to continue reducing pollution from wastewater. Currently, Gov. O’Malley has proposed an increase in the flush tax to the General Assembly as a means to help fund these additional water reclamation facility projects.