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Celebrate SepticSmart Week

And avoid Stormwater Dumb Era

How high is your enthusiasm for celebrating Septic­Smart Week?
    I’ve been celebrating since Monday, when Septic­Smart Week began, because a septic system upgrade is a fix-up chore on my done list.
    My done list is short. Not for want of trying. The got-to-do list at the Martin-Lambrecht household keeps us jumping.
    Our septic system is on the done list because of Maryland’s Flush Tax, formally known as the Bay Restoration Fund. Fund or tax, in my book it’s the best thing Bob Ehrlich did for Maryland in his four years as governor.
    The $60 Maryland households now pay is a small price for keeping our share of poop out of the Bay. Forgive that four-letter word — blunt as many of our Anglo-Saxon heritage words are — but that’s the source of much of the nitrogen enriching our waterways by way of household wastewater.
    Nearly one-quarter of all American households — more than 26 million homes — depend on septic systems to treat their wastewater. In Maryland counties surrounding the Bay, the proportion is typically higher, rising to 70 percent in St. Mary’s, for example.
    Replacing the most damaging of those septic systems — outdated and failing ones in our waterway-surrounding Critical Areas zone — is one of many good works achieved by the Flush Tax. Fairhaven, my neighborhood, is one of many Anne Arundel communities in that zone. So the Flush Tax paid for the technology and installation in my back yard of a septic system that works as a high-grade, small-scale water purification plant.
    Naturally, I’m a Flush Tax fan. I smiled all the way to the bank, where I withdrew the thousands more dollars to pay for the hole wherein our new septic systems does its Bay-saving work.
    I also smile each time I flush because of my very personal role in saving the Bay. I’ve even more reason to celebrate, because from cost to concept to construction, upgrading my septic system was an achievement I couldn’t have managed on my own.
    Smart ideas ride on money. The Flush Tax started the flow of engineering ingenuity that magnified the social benefit of solving my personal problem. Engineers figured out how to fix smart septic systems in critical — and in my case small and difficult — places, so my poop isn’t your problem.
    Better still, we’re working together to save the Bay. Multiply our partnerships by all the septic systems improved by the Flush Tax — plus the much bigger improvements to Maryland’s 67 largest public wastewater treatment plants — and we’re making a critical difference.
    Solving big problems takes more than any one of us can do alone. Most big problems aren’t the work of just one person. It takes lots of us. Many years of many people doing what comes naturally — like the bear pooping in the woods — add up to some really big messes. As with the mess we’ve made of the Bay, figuring out what we’ve done also takes time.
    We’re there now. After 500 years, we know that even a vast waterway like the Chesapeake and a big land like America can’t neutralize all we leave behind. Our messes have grown into monsters we cannot fight without help.
    Stormwater is the new monster coming after us — and after the Bay.
    As if storms weren’t fierce enough on their own, all our impervious surfaces hasten their flow and strengthen their power.
    The Maryland General Assembly stood up to the problem, creating a solution similar to the Flush Tax, stormwater management fees.
    The bigger your contribution to the problem, the more you pay. Thus only the biggest counties have to pay, and businesses pay more than homeowners and homeowners more than apartment dwellers.
    But niggle by niggle, it’s being undone.
    Churches and nonprofits got a pass, as if doing good work was an exemption from doing necessary work.
    Now the whole structure is under attack, even by lawmakers who voted for it.
    So as I celebrate SepticSmart Week, I worry that we’ve entered Stormwater Dumb Era.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com