Nearly one million Marylanders rely on well water as their primary drinking source and must take the safety of their drinking water into their own hands. Unfortunately, many have not been informed about potential drinking water contaminants, do not know they should test their wells annually, or cannot afford the cost of testing. Access to clean drinking water is a basic human right. We cannot leave Marylanders in the dark any longer.
Del. Vaughn Stewart (District 19) introduced legislation that would strengthen protections for private well owners in Maryland and bring the state in line with the rest of the country. Del. Stewart’s bill, HB250, would ensure Marylanders have the resources and information that well owners and users in most other states have by bolstering the Private Well Safety Program. This bill would:
- Allow the MDE or eligible county health departments to provide grants to residents for testing their private well water;
- Allow the MDE or eligible county health departments to provide grants to residents for remediation when their water is contaminated or unsafe to drink;
- Establish a groundwater quality database with important information related to private wells; and
- Require water quality testing whenever a person buys a home with a well in Maryland.
In 2021, with bipartisan support, the General Assembly passed HB1069, establishing the Private Well Safety Program. This program currently provides important drinking water protections for tenants on well water, but Maryland still has a long way to go.
Tell Gov. Hogan to fund the Private Well Safety Program in House Bill 250 today. The health and safety of his constituents depends on it.
Fortunately, advocates are taking action. Last year, with support from the University of Maryland School of Public Health, environmental health groups launched a community science initiative that sent free nitrate test strips and a survey to private well owners on the Lower Eastern Shore. More than four in five (81 percent) survey participants reported never having tested their wells or doing so only once. Five percent of the samples tested exceeded EPA’s threshold. In a follow-up survey, more than one in three participants said that cost of tests and/or remediation were barriers to testing.
Nearly all (98 percent) respondents said they would support efforts by the state to subsidize the cost of test kits, and the vast majority (87 percent) of respondents said they would support efforts by the state to provide grants to clean up contaminated wells.
Maryland law is not only outdated but also harms public health. In 2020, the Center for Progressive Reform assessed nitrate — a colorless, odorless, and tasteless contaminant — in private wells on the Lower Eastern Shore. Excess manure and fertilizer application and septic system drainage are common sources of nitrate.
The report found that one in 25 wells in Wicomico and Worcester counties had nitrate levels above EPA’s safe drinking water threshold, or levels that are deemed unsafe to drink.
The Maryland Department of the Environment’s (MDE) own research confirms this. According to the department’s 2021 groundwater protection program report, an in-house study of public water supplies with elevated nitrate in three Eastern Shore counties “highlighted the correlation between proximity of farming practices to drinking water wells.”
High nitrate levels are known to cause blue baby syndrome, a condition fatal to infants, and are linked to an increased risk of cancer, pregnancy complications, and thyroid disease — even at levels well below EPA’s threshold. A recent peer-reviewed study found an association between well water usage and cancer rates on the Lower Eastern Shore.
A recent study ranked Maryland among five U.S. states with the fewest protections for private well owners and users. Tell Governor Hogan Maryland needs to do better!