A crash course in septic systems and how they’re damaging the environment

Septic System

In his State of the State Address on February 3, 2011, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley made the following statement:

“We must realize that where we choose to sleep, eat, and live affects our environment and it affects our Bay. Together, we’ve made some great progress in recent years. And we shouldn’t take that lightly. It didn’t happen by chance, it happened by choice … reducing farm run-off, reducing pollution from aging sewage treatment plants; most recently, starting to reduce the damage and the pollution that’s caused by storm-water run-off. But among the big four causes of pollution in the Bay, there is one area of reducing pollution where so far we have totally failed, and in fact it’s actually gotten much worse, and that is pollution from the proliferation of septic systems throughout our State – systems which by their very design are intended to leak sewage ultimately into our Bay and into our water tables.

Now look, you and I can turn around this damaging trend by banning the further installation of septic systems in major new Maryland housing developments. This is common sense, this is urgently needed, this is timely, and for the health of the Bay we need to do what several rural counties have already done and had the good sense to do.  We are up to this” (source).

Reactions to this statement have been mixed and confused.  If you’re not familiar with septic systems, the Governor has just informed you that they are designed to leak sewage.  How can this be true?  Who would design such a system?  If you’re one of the 420,000 Maryland households using a septic system you probably feel singled out.  You no doubt wonder how your perfectly functioning septic tank could be contributing to the death of the Chesapeake Bay (source).

In response to this confusion, I decided to do some digging and learn more about how septic tanks function, malfunction, and ultimately impact our waterbodies.  Hopefully this will shed some light on the issue and promote a better understanding of septic system developments. Continue reading A crash course in septic systems and how they’re damaging the environment

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Will we ever finally “Save the Bay”?

Chesapeake Bay viewed from Hart-Miller Island
Chesapeake Bay viewed from Hart-Miller Island

The Chesapeake Bay is an amazing and beautiful place.  The Bay covers an area of 4,479 square miles making it the largest estuary in the United States.  It drains over 64,000 square miles with a watershed that stretches from Virginia to New York including 6 states and the District of Columbia.  An estuary is a body of water where fresh and salt water mix creating a unique ecosystem.  The Chesapeake Bay supports more than 3,600 species of plants, fish, and animals and is home to 29 species of waterfowl.

Chesapeake Bay Watershed
Chesapeake Bay Watershed

The Bay is also surprisingly shallow.  The average depth is 21 feet, but 25% of the Bay is less than 6 feet deep.  The size of the Bay’s watershed combined with its shallow waters make it particularly susceptible to pollution.  For decades environmentalists have chanted “save the bay!” but the policies implemented by state governments have had mixed results at best.  In 2009 the Chesapeake Bay Foundation graded the health of the Bay as a “D” for the 10th year in a row (source).

So why is the Bay so hard to clean up?  Continue reading Will we ever finally “Save the Bay”?