Septic System Upgrade Program

The Chesapeake Bay is vital to Maryland’s economy and quality of life, but excess nutrients are the primary 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 reduce the amount entering our streams and waterways dramatically. Users of public sewer systems pay a monthly surcharge on their sewer bills, which funds upgrades of sewage treatment plants. In contrast, users of onsite sewage disposal systems (OSDS) pay an annual fee that 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. Some nitrogen will eventually get the groundwater and surface waters away from the Critical Area.

The amount of nitrogen discharged from an OSDS can be reduced by approximately 50% by installing 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 the Maryland Department of the Environment and locally by the Cecil County Government, 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 expenses include purchasing the BAT unit, installing the electrical connection, and the first two years of an operation and maintenance contract. If an existing drain field functions appropriately, it will not have to be replaced. However, if the current system fails, it must be returned when the BAT unit is installed. The Bay Restoration Fund will pay only for the BAT unit, not drainfield replacement, although low-income households may be eligible for financial assistance under other programs. The priority for grant funding is for failing OSDS in the Critical Areas, followed by failing OSDS elsewhere in the County, and then non-failing OSDS in the Critical Area.

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