Just about now Governor O’Malley may be hip deep in Lake Bonnie. The private lake in Goldsboro, Maryland  has been closed to swimming, in part due to failing septic systems. The governor’s wade-in highlights the urgent need to curb septic system pollution. Some will deride it as a stunt — some already have. But by whatever means possible, the governor is trying to bring attention to a topic most people would rather not think about and whose costs are largely out of sight but are significant and long-term.

The Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act of 2011 (HB 1107/SB 846) would prohibit new residential major subdivisions (of 5 or more new lots) from using on-site septic systems. They would be allowed to use shared or multi-use sewerage systems, or connect to existing sewer.

The purpose of the bill is to reduce the amount of Nitrogen that is flowing into and harming the bay, streams and rivers. But the impact of septic sprawl goes beyond that. The cost of continuing sprawl patterns of development are born by everyone, no matter where you live, whether on septic or not.

See the study on our Cost of Sprawl page at Planning.Maryland.gov that describes how current growth patterns will require an estimated $104 billion in total road construction and maintenance costs up to 2030, compared to $75 billion under a Smart Growth scenario.  The study, Analyzing the Effects of Smart Growth on Projected Road Development in 2030,” was conducted by Ken (Kiman) Choi of Maryland Department of Planning last year.

And there are other costs to consider about septic sprawl. It may favor farmers who want to sell their farms, but less so for farmers who want to remain farming because homes sprouting up around them that make it harder to conduct agriculture. Also, for every $1 of tax revenue they produce, working farms require 30 to 50 cents on average in government services, compared to residential development, which requires $1.15 in services and up per $1 of tax revenue, according to the American Farmland Trust. Here are some Maryland county comparisons, based on data from several sources, including the Carroll County Dept. of Management & Budget (1994);  Cecil County Office of Economic Development (1994) and the American Farmland Trust (1997, 2001-03).

For every $1 of tax revenue produced, residential properties require in services:

Carroll County       $1.15

Cecil County            $1.17

Cecil County            $1.12

Frederick County  $1.14

Harford County     $1.11

Kent County            $1.05

Wicomico County  $1.21

For every $1 of tax revenue produced, Commercial and Industrial properties require in services:

Carroll County         48 cents

Cecil County             34 cents

Cecil County             28 cents

Frederick County   50 cents

Harford County      40 cents

Kent County             64 cents

Wicomico County   33 cents

For every $1 of tax revenue produced, Working and Open Land properties require in services:

Carroll County        45 cents

Cecil County             66 cents

Cecil County             37 cents

Frederick County   53 cents

Harford County      91 cents

Kent County             42 cents

Wicomico County   96 cents