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Bay Restoration Fund

What is the Bay Restoration Fund (BRF)?
The Bay Restoration Fund was established by Senate Bill 320 (Bay Restoration Fund) and signed into law on May 26, 2004. According to studies, the Chesapeake Bay has experienced a decline in water quality due to over-enrichment of nutrients (mainly phosphorus and nitrogen). Effluent from wastewater treatment plants, residential on-site (septic) disposal systems (OSDS), and agricultural practices are the top three major contributors of nutrients entering the Bay.

The legislative bill created a dedicated fund, financed by wastewater treatment plants and onsite disposal system users, to upgrade Maryland’s municipal and residential treatment systems. Funds are also used to implement cover crop management to reduce nitrogen loading to the Bay. The signing of this bill initiated Maryland’s efforts to further reduce nitrogen and phosphorus loading in the Bay by over 7.5 million pounds of nitrogen per year and over 260 thousand pounds of phosphorus per year, which represent over one-third of Maryland’s commitment under the Chesapeake Bay 2000 Agreement.

A $60 annual fee is collected from each home served by an individual onsite septic system. The total estimated program income is $24 million per year. Sixty percent of the funds are used for septic system upgrades and the remaining 40 percent are used for cover crops.

There are approximately 420,000 onsite systems in Maryland. With priority given to failing septic systems in Critical Areas, funds can be provided for upgrades of existing systems to best available technology (BAT) for nitrogen removal instead of conventional technology.

Calvert County residents are encouraged to apply for the grant to upgrade their onsite septic system.

Why should we upgrade our septic system?
Conventional septic systems, with a drain field or seepage pit, are not designed to remove nitrogen. Scientists have shown that nitrogen and phosphorus pollution are the greatest threats facing the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. With over 140 miles of shoreline, Calvert County has a special interest in using nitrogen-reducing technology to treat sewage. The BRF grant provides financial and technical assistance to upgrade your outdated and ineffective septic tank with the Best Available Technology (BAT) and to help reduce nitrogen by at least 50%. Some studies have shown that BAT systems produce cleaner wastewater, which may extend the life of your drain field. Everyone “produces” nitrogen which will eventually enter the Bay or other waterways. Nitrogen is a fertilizer and it’s known to increase the production of algal blooms which removes oxygen in the waterways and is responsible for fish kills.

How does a nitrogen-reducing system work?
A nitrogen-reducing system consists of the BAT unit and the sewage disposal field. The BAT units used in Calvert County typically replace the conventional septic tank. The units may use aeration or recirculation to promote biological action. Through this action, nitrogen is released as a harmless gas to the atmosphere. BAT units usually include electrical and mechanical components such as pumps, blowers, floats, alarms, diffusers and electronic control panels.

Who is eligible for the grant?
Any county property owner may apply for the grant. Priority is given to properties with failing or failed septic systems and those properties with metal septic tanks in the Critical Area (that area within 1,000 feet of tidal waters of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries).

Other properties, with a failed septic system outside of the critical area and without a failed septic system, may be eligible and grant awards are based on household income to determine the percentage of the grant award. (see the last page for additional information)

Who pays for the system?
The Maryland Department of the Environment, through the Bay Restoration Fund, has provided the Calvert County Health Department with grant funds to pay for the BAT portion of the septic system. The BRF grant will provide 100% funding for the BAT system installation only for those property owners who earn less than $300,000 per year or non-profit entities. Property owners who earn more than $300,000 per year and any business will only receive 50% of the funding for the BAT system installation. The Health Department will directly pay the vendor of the BAT after the system has been installed and inspected. The manufacturer will then pay the subcontractors for their work (electrical, plumbing, tank removal, installation, and other costs). The grant shall not reimburse a property owner for a system that has been installed without going through the grant process.

What is covered by the grant?
If your property is selected, the grant will pay for the pumping and filling or removal of the current septic tank, a new BAT system, installation, electrical wiring, pre-engineering, inspection, a two-year operation and maintenance contract, and grading to stabilize the area disturbed by the installation.

What is not covered by the grant?
The following items shall not be covered by the grant and the property owner is responsible for payment:

  • Health Department septic system Replacement Permit.
  • A $60 recordation fee for the agreement to be recorded to land records.
  • Any necessary sewage disposal system repair or replacement costs, aside from those mentioned above, are the responsibility of the property owner. For instance, replacement of failed drainfields, seepage pits, sand mounds, pump systems, landscape restoration,etc.
  • Upgraded electric service: Most BAT systems require a dedicated 30 AMP electric breaker (possibly more); an upgrade may be required.
  • Other issues that arise during the installation process: tree removal, excessive landscaping, fence removal, or sidewalks, decks or patios that need to be removed because of their proximity to the overall septic system.
  • Repair of the system due to owner neglect or abuse.
  • The daily cost of electricity to operate the system and the monitoring system.
  • Periodic septic tank effluent pump-out.
  • Perpetual operation and maintenance of the BAT system by a qualified service provider once the initial two-year contract has expired.

How much does the system cost to operate?
Please see the Maryland Department of the Environment’s website for performance information

What is the process?
The following is a list describing the grant process:

  • Your application must be submitted to the Calvert County Health Department.
  • The home owner’s application is reviewed for completeness. If additional information is needed, staff will contact the property owner or return the application.
  • The homeowner must have their existing system evaluated by a qualified inspector to determine the condition of the existing system components and confirm system failure for prioritization purposes.
  • A sanitary construction permit must be applied for prior to conducting any percolation testing and must be issued prior to installation of the system. A fee of $175 applies for the permit and may not be paid for with BRF funds.
  • A percolation test will need to be conducted on all systems requiring disposal component (drainfield) replacement. Specifications will be issued by this office in the form of an issued sanitary construction permit following the percolation test. This information may be used to obtain cost estimates from qualified septic installers for the portion of the project that will be your financial responsibility.
  • Grant recipients will need to make an agreement with the Health Department prior to award. This agreement will need to be signed by the property owner as well as the Director of Environmental Health. The agreement will need to be recorded to the land records of Calvert County. A small fee of $60 applies for recordation.
  • The homeowner must select a BAT technology and make a contract with the vendor of the chosen system. Homeowners will need to review the ranking and evaluation information provided prior to selecting a BAT system.
  • The homeowner must make a contract with a qualified septic installer for the portions of the project that are not funded by the BRF grant.
  • Homeowners, vendors and installers will receive an award notification once all relevant documents have been received. The vendor and installer will have 45 days to complete installation otherwise the grant award will expire and there will no longer be funds available for the project.  

How long does it take to install the new system?
A typical system takes between two to four days. Residents will be able to use their waste water system during the entire time, except for 3 to 4 hours when the actual pipe connections occur.

I have big trees – is this a problem?
During the site visit / evaluation process, trees and other obstacles will be noted. If a tree or fence is in the way of a new system, it may need to be removed and the removal cost is the responsibility of the property owner. If the applicant’s property is in the Critical Area, a tree removal permit may be required.

Our septic tank is on a very steep slope, is this a problem?
Installing a system is a challenge but it’s not really a problem. A composite tank, one not made from concrete, may be required because large equipment may not be able to access steep slopes. Also, if the property is in the Critical Area, the use of sediment and erosion control measures may be required as part of the contract.

I believe my deck / sidewalk / patio is over my septic tank!
If your current septic system is beneath a deck or other structure, the structure must be removed, at the owner’s expense. Replacement of a deck, patio, walkway, etc is the responsibility of the property owner (don’t forget to obtain a permit to demo and replace the deck, etc).

I’ve been waiting for months – when will I get my septic system?
The program is very popular and with limited funds not everyone will receive the grant.
If your property is not initially selected, your application will be held for three months but will be considered null and void if no progress is made. The highest priority for funding is a given to failed septic systems in the critical area and outside of the critical area.

I think my system is failing now, what can I do?
If you believe your septic tank or drain field is failing or if you have a collapsed metal septic tank, contact a licensed septic installer or inspector for an evaluation of the system.

I’ve been told I need a new drain field – can the grant pay for that?
NO. A mechanism for funding drainfields with the BRF program does exist for low-income applicants, however with the current prioritization scheme we will not be funding any of those systems in the near future.

What maintenance is required for nitrogen-reducing systems?
Since BAT units have electrical and mechanical components, periodic maintenance and inspections by a qualified contractor are essential. The frequency of inspection and maintenance will vary based on the type of unit. Owners should follow the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance requirements. A maintenance agreement or service contract with a qualified contractor is required in perpetuity. The overall effectiveness of a nitrogen-reducing system and its level of wastewater treatment depend upon the use of the system. Bleach, detergents and household chemicals should be used sparingly. The grant provides an initial two-year operation and maintenance contract with the vendor of the BAT system. Pumping of the BAT system will be recommended by the service provider, when necessary, but is not part of the initial operation and maintenance contract and is the responsibility of the homeowner.

What if I have a water softener?
Homeowners with existing water softeners installed in their homes should be aware that the wastewater from backwash cycles must not be allowed to discharge into a BAT system. Alternate plumbing of the backwash waste line will be required prior to final inspection of the system at the owner’s expense.

Will a garbage disposal adversely affect the operation of a septic system?
There are no State statutes or administrative rules prohibiting the use of a garbage disposal when a septic system is used to process sewage wastes. However, it is strongly recommended that you do not use a garbage disposal when you discharge sewage wastes to a septic system. Excessive use of a garbage disposal can cause a septic system to prematurely fail. The septic system failure results from the garbage disposal discharging a finely ground mix of solid matter that will not completely settle in the septic tank. This fine material passes through the septic tank and then either completely clogs the distribution network of a BAT unit or clogs the distribution network of an absorption field. It’s recommended that you COMPOST appropriate food waste.

Where can I get additional information?

Information about BAT systems may be found on the Maryland Department of the Environment

Additionally, you may contact either Brooke Hebb or Matt Cumers, 410-535-3922.

 

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