Septic System Upgrade Program

The Chesapeake Bay is vital to Maryland’s economy and quality of life but excess nutrients are the major cause of water quality problems that degrade the Bay and its tributaries. Sewage discharges are one of the major sources of these nutrients and the Bay Restoration Fund was created to dramatically reduce the amount entering our streams and waterways. Users of public sewer systems pay a monthly surcharge on their sewer bills, which funds upgrades of sewage treatment plants, while users of onsite sewage disposal systems (OSDS) pay an annual fee which funds septic system upgrades as well as agricultural cover crops to reduce nitrogen loading to the Bay.

A conventional OSDS was never designed to remove nitrogen and the average residential OSDS discharges approximately 40 pounds of nitrogen per year. For residences in the Critical Area (land within 1000′ of a tidal body of water) up to 80% of this nitrogen can reach surface waters but even away from the Critical Area some nitrogen will eventually reach the groundwater and surface waters.

The amount of nitrogen discharged from an OSDS can be reduced by approximately 50% by installation of a Maryland Department of the Environment approved best available technology (BAT) system for nitrogen reduction. The Bay Restoration Fund Septic System Upgrade Program, administered at the state level by Maryland Department of the Environment and locally by the Cecil County Health Department, will pay from 50% to 100% of the cost of the BAT upgrade, depending on the use of the system and on the property owner’s income level. Eligible costs include purchase of the BAT unit, installation including electrical connection, and the first two years of an operation and maintenance contract. If an existing drainfield is functioning properly it will not have to be replaced, however, if the existing system is failing it will have to be replaced at the time the BAT unit is installed. The Bay Restoration Fund will pay only for the BAT unit and not for drainfield replacement, although low income households may be eligible for financial assistance under other programs. The first priority for grant funding is for failing OSDS in the Critical Area, followed by failing OSDS elsewhere in the County, and then non-failing OSDS in the Critical Area.

An application for the Bay Restoration Fund Septic System Upgrade Program can be obtained by contacting the Environmental Health Services Division of the Cecil County Health Department at 410-996-5160 or can be downloaded here. Following submittal of the application an inspection of the existing septic system will be made; percolation testing is required if there is no record of satisfactory prior tests. The applicant will then be notified of how to proceed, including selection of an approved BAT vendor, determination of level of funding available, and execution of an Agreement and Easement to be recorded in the Land Records of Cecil County.

For additional information, please contact Environmental Health Services at 410-996-5160.

Information on the Bay Restoration Fund is also available from Maryland Department of the Environment at