Three Clean Water Bills Signed!

Today, Governor Hogan signed three bills that Clean Water Action worked on this legislative session.

The first, HB190 (Delegates Lafferty and Qi), creates a minimum definition for what is a failing septic system. While historically the state has had internal guidelines, these did not have the force of law. Disagreement about whether or not a problem with a septic system meets the threshold of failing is problemmatic, leading to long disputes that delay fixing a system that is not functioning. By setting a state minimum standard, we create more certainty and predictability in the septic industry. Throughout the last several years as Clean Water Action and others have worked on septic policy in Maryland, we have found ourselves and others frequently referencing "failing" systems, and how these are the ones that need to be found and fixed. Thanks to HB 190, we now have that standard definition and common understanding of what a failing system means.

The second, HB539 (Delegates Cassilly and Wivell), clarifies that potable discharge from residences, like backwash from water treatment systems or ice makers, does not have to be directed into a septic tank. Large discharges of water all at once are a signficant problem and, according to national estimates, is a leading cause of premature septic failure. Septic systems work through slow trickles, when a gallon enters a tank a gallon leaves the tank. Inside the tank, solids filter out and only liquid wastewater should be released into the drain field (a series of pipes in one's yard). However, water treatment systems and ice makers dump enormous quantities of water all at once, leading to hydraulic overload. What that means is, a huge volume of water rushes into the tank, agitating all of the solids. All mixed in together, that same volume of water is pushed out of the tank, taking with it solids that are not supposed to make it out of the tank and into the drainfield. Once too many solids are deposited into the septic field, they clog it up and now we are dealing with a failing system that is not sufficiently treating waste! Backwash from water treatment systems and ice makers has no opportunity for biologic contact, so there is no reason for it to be directed into a septic system. This bill allows local health officers to decide how to discharge that water.

The third, HB417 (Delegate Hill et al), increases notification for wastewater treatment plant overflows or bypasses. These releases of untreated waste happen all too frequently in Maryland, especially during large storm events. Unfortunately, public notification is not sufficient and many Marylanders do not know when or where they occur. This is a signficant public health concern - recreating in waters with untreated human waste can lead to serious illnesses and infections.

Thank you to all of the legislators and partners who worked with us to craft these bills!