SALISBURY, MD---When your toilet flushes, do you know where the water goes? Dr. Michael Scott of Salisbury University’s Department of Geography and Geosciences does.
He and other researchers from the Eastern Shore Regional GIS Cooperative at SU have been hired by the state of Maryland to locate and identify some 420,000 septic systems across the state’s 23 counties.
The data will be used by the state to identify failing septic systems in areas that critically impact the Chesapeake Bay. Those home and business owners may be provided money from the Bay Restoration Fund to update their failing system.
“When septic systems work, they keep toxins from being released into groundwater, but when they fail the pollutants can run right into rivers and the bay,” Scott said. Since flushes at those 420,000 properties can add up, his job is to identify and map where they are located. That way the state can more efficiently provide funds to failing sewage disposal systems in the areas that significantly affect the Bay.
Since January, Scott and his team have been working on the $92,634 project, contracted by the Maryland Department of the Environment. They are identifying the septic systems using information including high-resolution aerial photography, images of property lines and homeowner data from the Maryland Department of Planning that shows up as small green dots.
Deciphering and moving the green dots is a tedious process that so far has taken an average of about three weeks per county, Scott said. Some of the biggest challenges for his team have included working with individual counties to get data, Scott said.
The funds that are being distributed stem from a $30 fee collected from each home served by an onsite septic tank as part of the Bay Restoration Fund bill signed into law by Gov. Robert Ehrlich in 2004. Not only is the money being used to pay for septic system upgrades, but a portion also goes to pay farmers to plant cover crops.
“To use the money wisely you’ve got to prioritize who is going to get the money,” Scott said. “Our database will allow for an environmentally-friendly implementation that upgrades systems that are within 1,000 feet of the Chesapeake Bay, for example.”
Working on this project are two SU alumni and GIS analysts, Elizabeth Wheatley and Kathleen Jackson, who both earned a B.S. in geography in 2006. Student intern Mary Creamer is also involved.
Housed in a lab in SU’s Devilbiss Hall, the ESRGC provides access to geographic information system technology, data, technical support, and training to the local governments of Maryland's Eastern Shore. Established in 2004 it is a joint effort between the University, the Mid-Shore Regional Council and the Tri-County Council of the Lower Eastern Shore of Maryland.
Scott expects the septic system project to be completed during the summer. So the next time you flush, you may want to stop and think about the location of your home on Scott’s maps. What kind of impact does your flush have on the Chesapeake Bay?
For more information call 410-543-6030 or visit the SU Web site at www.salisbuy.edu.