Safer Septic Systems for Maryland

A stream flows green through a wooded area, indicating a leak during a dye test.

Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay Cleanup requires nutrient reductions from every sector that contributes to water pollution. Of the four major sectors contributing to Bay pollution, massive public investment has led to significant reductions in pollution from wastewater treatment plants; counties have permit requirements to reduce stormwater runoff; and agricultural pollution has seen significant reductions in recent years.

Unfortunately, pollution from septic systems is still unaddressed and continues to grow. Aside from the pollution issue, with changing rainfalls and our historic legacy of improperly placed systems, Marylanders around the state are experiencing failing septic systems — septic systems that are not adequately treating waste and putting public and environmental health in jeopardy. Maryland does not track failing septic systems, does not proactively inspect septic systems, and does not have sufficient resources available to help homeowners cope with expensive repairs that may be required.

Licensing Inspectors: Under current state policy, people who inspect septic systems are not licensed, leaving homeowners vulnerable to improper inspections that can miss costly problems with a septic system when they are purchasing a home. While the state does not require septic system inspections when a home is for sale, most banks require it for a mortgage, and it's a good practice to avoid a nasty surprise after a home purchase. HB302 creates a State Board of On-Site Wastewater Professionals within the Maryland Department of the Environment and a licensing system for septic system services; SB22/HB407 requires that people inspecting septic systems be licensed by the Maryland Department of the Environment.

Financing Repairs: When a failing septic system is found, homeowners are responsible for fixing it. Unfortunately, many homes have septic systems that would have never been approved under modern standards — the property may not have a backup dispersal field or may have the wrong soils, which can contribute to failure. To repair these systems a homeowner may be looking at a $30,000+ bill. Many homeowners cannot afford, or may not have the equity in their home, to take out low-interest lines of credit, and as a result put off these repairs. When repairs are put off, untreated waste continues to leach into surface waterways and groundwater. Clean Water Action is advocating to create financing for homeowners to repair or replace the dispersal systems for their units through low or no-interest loans.

Septic System Education: Many residents living on septic systems do not realize that their system is sensitive and requires maintenance and care to keep it working. A poorly maintained septic system can prematurely fail, a problem for nearby waterways, public health, and the value of the home. Find out more about how you can best maintain your system (and understand how a septic system works)!