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Septic Systems Contribute Nitrogen to Local Waterways

Older septic systems in the critical area can discharge significant amounts of nitrogen into the Severn and Magothy rivers.

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.

Chris February 20, 2012 at 12:00 AM
For those still on septic, use the All-Natural http://www.MillerPlante.net Advanced Formula Septic-Helper 2000. It has the 8 natural bacteria and enzymes that liquefy the waste in the tank AND out in the drain field for less than $3 per month. New 2011 EPA Mandates on all 50 States to clean up their water supplies say that a slow drain in your leach field, low bacteria levels, a failed inspection or elevated Nitrate levels could require replacement of your entire system for $10,000 to $80,000 or connect to the city sewer system. 900+ Septic, Well & Water News Stories: http://www.Twitter.com/MillerPlanteInc Search our Facebook News by State: http://www.Facebook.com/Miller.Plante http://www.Facebook.com/groups/207776162612151/ Sources: UN Agenda 21, Ch. 18 - http://www.un.org/esa/dsd/agenda21/res_agenda21_18.shtml US Clean Water Act - http://www.epa.gov/oecaerth/assistance/bystatute/cwa/index.html EPA TMDL (Nitrate Limits for Water Supplies) - http://www.epa.gov/chesapeakebaytmdl/ EPA Mandated Inspections - http://www.marex.uga.edu/advisory/cssmip.html
Mark Takacs February 21, 2012 at 08:10 PM
Another day, another article.............. First thing to do is look up the pie chart that shows septic systems are approx 7% of the nitrogen load.......so why is the other 93% not getting that much attention? OK....there is very little agriculture in the area unless we want to talk about all the Chemlawn chemicals that are dumped on the shoreline homes. Do wastewater treatment plants cause any nitrogen load.....probably not if you asked the people that run them. My understanding is that the flush tax only pays for the enhanced nutrient removal and not the increase in new users.
Mark Takacs February 21, 2012 at 08:23 PM
WOOPS.... It also does not pay to improve the existing delivery pipes that get the wastewater to the treatment plant....just ask Baltimore City.....they would be first in line. Ask why wastewater treatment plants have overflows? The power goes out, a clog in the pipe, but the best ones happen during heavy rains. Why does it happen during heavy rains.....because the pipes leak allowing rain water in that causes an overflow. Well is rain can get in.......sewage can leak out causing it to put nitrogen into the groundwater just like a septic system. So what percent of this is blamed on septic systems? Also, do you know how much electricity it costs to run a wastewater treatment plant? How about how much it costs to run a nitrogen reducing septic tank? All this for 7%...........? How about some of these people address the real problem.......stormwater. Every property (old and new) should have a rain garden to gather the initial rainfall and allow the initial polluted wash to perc back into the ground for cleansing.

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