Every little bit helps

The Baltimore Sun

Anne Arundel County is blessed with two of the state's most popular rivers - the Severn and the Magothy - and cursed by a preponderance of septic systems. It's a curse because most septic systems, in some measure, sully those very same rivers and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay. Anne Arundel's waterways are among its primary assets, and the county should be leading the effort to protect them.

The County Council is considering a bill that would require homeowners in environmentally sensitive areas to upgrade failing septic systems with a pollution-reducing model. It would apply to slightly more than 13,000 homes - those within 1,000 feet of tidal waters and near bogs. New homes that use septic must be equipped with the nitrogen-reducing systems.

It's a bill that would help reduce the septic-related bay pollution at a time when state funds are available to defray the $10,000 cost of improving a septic system. Councilmen Jamie Benoit of Crownsville, Joshua J. Cohen of Annapolis and Ronald C. Dillon of Pasadena are sponsoring the bill; their colleagues should join them and pass this legislation.

The need is demonstrable. Anne Arundel has 40,684 septic systems, most in the state, and in one year alone (2005) an estimated 881,000 pounds of nitrogen were delivered into local waterways from those systems. That was more effluent than local wastewater treatment plants released into area rivers and creeks. And the impact is easy to gauge. There are plenty of summer days when a high bacteria count along Anne Arundel's shoreline makes swimming unsafe, clouds the water and saps life out of favorite fishing holes.

County Executive John R. Leopold is concerned about the ability of residents to pay the cost of the nitrogen-removal septic system. But a state fund established to help residents with this expense has barely been tapped. Councilman Benoit said he plans to amend the bill to exempt homeowners from a septic upgrade if state funds aren't available. That's a reasonable response to Mr. Leopold's worries.

Reducing the number of outdated septic systems in the county can help restore the integrity of the bay and keep Anne Arundel's waters cleaner so that residents can fully enjoy their boating and swimming pursuits.

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