When Kathryn Lawson makes pasta, she drains the water into a pot instead of a strainer. Then she throws the water outside instead of letting it go down the drain.
When she and her husband had a party at their home over the summer, they had to rent portable toilets, and often use the bathroom three to four times before flushing.
“We can’t enjoy a long, soaking shower, and I have to limit water use when I mop the floor and limit when I do the dishes,” Lawson said.
The Lawsons have holding tanks on their property because their septic system has failed. So have two others in the Magnolia neighborhood in Edgewood.
That’s why 12 of the 14 property owners in the community have petitioned the county to be connected to the county’s sewer system, and are willing to pay for it.
The Magnolia Road sewer petition is one of two under consideration by the Harford County Council, which held public hearings on the proposals Tuesday night.
Residents in the Woodbridge Manor community in the Benson area, near the intersection of Belair and Harford roads and the Bel Air Bypass, are also seeking to be connected to the sewer system and pleaded with members of the Harford County Council Tuesday to approve their request.
Some residents in Woodbridge Manor have already had to replace their drain fields because their septic systems failed.
“If, when, it happens again, we will have to put in holding tanks to live there,” Greg Ayers, who has lived on Terry Way since 1996, said, and he doesn’t want holding tanks because he won’t be able to sell his house. “I don’t like the expense [of the sewer connection], but it’s the only option we have.”
Both petitions were introduced Dec. 11 to the council, which is expected to vote on them at the next meeting on Tuesday.
The Lawsons, who have lived in their home for about three years, have to have their holding tanks emptied every two to three weeks, for $225 each time, Lawson said.
The water from their home goes into the holding tanks, where it seeps into the property.
“The ground is saturated, and at that point the ground can’t take any more water. Now we’re basically flooded,” she said.
All the rain in the last year has made the situation even worse, she told the council during the public hearing.
In October 2017, nine of the 14 property owners in the Magnolia Road community submitted a petition request to the county to connect to the public system. After a septic evaluation by the Harford County Health Department and a public meeting for the community, 12 of the 14 property owners voted to support the project, according to Dave Burke, chief of water and sewer for Harford County Public Works Department.
It will mean an estimated $1,700 annual assessment for each property owner of the 1,800-foot 8-inch gravity sewer line is built. They will also have to pay $15,347 to connect to the system as well as the cost to abandon their existing septic system within a year and connect to the public sewer system at their homes.
Each property owner is expected to receive a $20,000 grant from the Maryland Department of the Environment Bay Restoration Fund, Burke said.
The estimated cost of the project is $532,000, to be paid with a low-interest 30-year loan through MDE.
During its septic system evaluation in April, the health department determined there is a seasonal elevated water table and the native soils have moderate to severe limitations for septic systems. Of the 11 lots that don’t have holding tanks, they are likely the only solution to residents’ sewer problems if they are not connected to the county system.
The health department concluded it cannot approve any building permits and the only on-site option is holding tanks, therefore public sewer is the best option.
Three other residents of the community also voiced their support for the county connection.
“I don’t like the holding tank scenario,” Albert Parkinson told the council. “It will be safer for the community and Harford County if we get a sewer hookup.”
Not all Woodbridge Manor residents are as supportive of the sewer connection in their neighborhood.
Drew White, of Terry Way, moved into the neighborhood in July and wasn’t aware of the septic issues. When his property was inspected, no problems were found nor were any suggested for the future.
The problems are only in one part of the neighborhood, he said.
“The community has been misled to believe the sewer system is a dire necessity,” White said, “when it’s isolated to one area and shouldn’t be a problem of the entire area.”
Of the 79 property owners in the community, 54 signed a petition request that was submitted to the county in May 2015. Similar to the Magnolia Road request, the health department did a septic evaluation in October and after a public meeting in October, 66 percent of the property owners voted to support the project, Burke said.
Under this project, a 5,325-foot, 8-inch public gravity sewer line and 1,210-foot low-pressure sewer line will be built to connect 65 properties to the county system. Fourteen properties will receive a pressure sewer connection with a county-owned grinder pump.
Burke said $355,000 in grant funding for the $3.2 million project is expected through the Stormwater Management Septic System Disconnection Program.
Residents will be required to pay a $1,854 annual assessment if the connection is approved, Burke said. They will also have to pay for hook-up charges, septic system abandonment and a private connection.
As in Magnolia Road, the health department found the native soils have moderate to severe limitations for septic systems. Five lots have steel tanks, but conditions could allow a high-cost innovative technology to repair the septic systems, Burke said.
Frank Hines, who has lived on Terry Way for 26 years, told the council he’s worried about the environment.
His property, zoned rural residential, abuts Jones Subaru, zoned B3, business, “so we are in a development area,” Hines said.
He sits on top of Winters Run which runs into the Bush River then into the Chesapeake Bay, all protected waters.
“A septic break could cause an environmental crisis and a threat to public health,” Hines said, noting most of the homes are 30 to 40 years old and their septic systems are subject to failure.
Matthew Taylor, who lives next to a home in the neighborhood that was torn down because of the septic issues, said the project is an investment, “but it’s a wonderful investment, for Harford County, too, to keep up property values.”
“Our community is dying. We’re not going to be able to sell our houses,” Taylor said. “I’m willing to put forth [the cost] for my future, for my wife’s future, for the future of our community.”