For the second time this year, the Harford County Council is considering legislation to relax local restrictions on private septic systems that provide waste disposal for many houses and businesses throughout the county.
Bill 17-013 would remove an outright ban on the construction of swimming pools, outbuildings, driveways or additions to a principal structure within the area designated on the property as part of the septic system, such as the drainfield or required replacement reserve area.
Instead, the legislation would allow the Harford County Health Department to grant waivers at its discretion to the restrictions which have been in effect for decades.
The legislation is sponsored by Councilman Joe Woods, who represents the Fallston and Joppa areas, which have a history of septic system failures.
The council will hold a public hearing on Bill 17-013 Tuesday at 6:45 p.m. in the council chambers, 212 S. Bond St. in Bel Air.
Woods couldn’t be reached at his business for comment on Monday. The county administration has not taken a position on the bill in advance of the hearing, spokesperson Cindy Mumby said.
Section 216-13 of the Harford County Code under “Prohibited Installations” currently states: “Private waste disposal systems shall not be installed in fill material, one-hundred-year-floodplain areas or on slopes in excess of a grade of 20 percent. No portion of a private waste disposal system will be covered by driveways, swimming pools, building additions or any other permanent structures, except that sewer lines of approved materials may be placed under driveways.”
Bill 17-013 would amend that section to state: “Private waste disposal systems shall not be installed in fill material, one-hundred-year-floodplain areas or on slopes in excess of a grade of 20 percent. Unless a prior waiver is issued by the Health Department, no portion of a private waste disposal system will be covered by driveways, swimming pools, building additions or any other permanent structures, except that sewer lines of approved materials may be placed under driveways without a waiver.”
In recent years, Harford’s council has cut back the minimum area for a septic system and replacements which was once as high as 40,000 square feet, or one acre, in the more rural areas of the county.
In March, the council approved Bill 17-003, which removed a requirement that new septic systems be installed with so-called Best Available Technology, or BAT and also required a “minimum of 10,000 square feet or adequate repair area for an initial sewage waste disposal system and three repair waste disposal systems based on a four bedroom dwelling, whichever is greater.”
That legislation was sponsored by Councilman Chad Shrodes, whose sprawling northern Harford district does not have public sewer service.
The removal of the BAT requirement mirrored Gov. Larry Hogan's action last November removing similar BAT requirements from Maryland's Code of Regulations, or COMAR, Shrodes said when his bill was introduced.
Shrodes said soil conditions should determine if a BAT system, which removes nitrogen from the waste effluent, should be required. Most soils in his district, he said, are porous and well drained and the water table is low enough that nitrogen is naturally filtered away before it would be carried into the bay’s drainage basin.
The BAT legislation had the support of the local health department and County Executive Barry Glassman, who signed it into law following its passage by the council.
In 2014, the council passed a bill, also sponsored by Shrodes, that cut minimum reserve areas for the septic system and replacements from 20,000 square feet to 10,000 square feet.