The Safe Drinking Water Act is the primary federal law governing the health of the nation’s drinking water, but its protections do not extend to private drinking wells and smaller community-based water systems. Roughly 2 million Marylanders rely on well water as their primary drinking source and are expected to take the safety of their drinking water into their own hands. Unfortunately, many well owners have not been adequately informed about potential drinking water contaminants, do not know they should test their wells annually, or cannot afford the cost of testing.
According to a 2020 report, Maryland ranks among the five U.S. states with the fewest protections for private well owners. House Bill 1069, sponsored by Delegate Vaughn Stewart, would bring Maryland in line with the resources and information that other states provide to well owners by establishing a Private Well Safety Program. Among other things, House Bill 1069 would:
- Provide residents financial assistance with the costs associated with water test kits and, when unsafe levels of contamination are found, the costs of well remediation.
- Encourage transparency by creating an accessible online database of well water quality test results and requires the state to engage in basic data and information gathering related to unprotected groundwater drinking sources.
- Ensure well drinking water protections for tenants and new home buyers by establishing testing and notification requirements for property owners
- Establish a source tracking and notification program requiring the state to conduct field sampling of groundwater in areas of known or suspected contamination, notifying residents when contamination hotspots are found.
Studies have demonstrated the disproportionate public health impact that pollution can have on lower-income families and people of color; pollution in Maryland’s drinking water is no exception. Nitrate, for instance, is colorless, odorless, and tasteless compound that has contaminated groundwater on Maryland’s Lower Eastern Shore — where the proportion of people living in poverty is greater than the state as a whole. Counties in the Lower Eastern Shore also have the highest proportion of Black residents compared to the rest of the shore. One study found that in two Lower Eastern Shore counties, roughly 1 out of 10 private wells sampled had nitrate concentrations of 3 mg/L or above, a level that may be or become hazardous to health. Rates of cancer, colorectal cancer, infant mortality, and low birth weight, which have all been linked to nitrate consumption, are greater in Lower Eastern Shore counties compared to the state as a whole.