Some Questions Answered, Many Remain

Posted on September 22, 1999 at 20:30:19:

Talk about our crazy summer weather. First we undergo a horrible drought which proved to be disastrous to our farmers. Then, as if our prayers for rain were heard ten-fold, we get Tropical Storm Floyd that comes along and floods parts of Southern Maryland, closes schools, uproots trees and cuts off power.

Sure we wanted rain, but did we want that much? It was with a bit of irony that Floyd decided to start its visit to Southern Maryland the day a group of experts assembled in Prince Frederick to talk about the very thing that was falling from the sky -- water.

I was pleased to be joined September 15 at an aquifer public forum by Secretary of the Department of Natural Resources Dr. Sarah Taylor Rogers, Secretary of the Department of the Environment Jane Nishida, Deputy Secretary of the Department of Agriculture Hagner R. Mister as well as several experts from each agency.

More than 100 people braved the rain to hear what these experts had to say about the status of our aquifers. Judging by the publicís rapt attention, this is a very serious matter. It is made more serious simply because we are the fastest growing region in Maryland and the demand for water is greater than ever. The panel of experts at the aquifer forum expressed worry about what this development will do to our aquifers.

Our abundant growth has caused a great demand for housing units and with more housing will come more commercial development and the demand for water will be unprecedented.

We know there is water under us, we just donít know how much. And believe me, as we make crucial decisions for our future, we need to know how much water is available in both the short and long run.

It doesnít take a brain surgeon to know that water is essential for life. Just look what the lack of rainfall did this summer to our crops.

But itís important to know that the heavy rains we recently receive have had little effect on Marylandís groundwater.

The U.S. Geological Society has already stated that the stateís ground levels are continuing to drop.

I was heartened by the presence of public officials from all three Southern Maryland counties as well as Tri-County Council Executive Director David Jenkins. All of the officials agreed it is essential that we work together as a region to address this very important, yet complicated issue.

What we do know is that a comprehensive study needs to be done by experts on the subject. Iím a fiscal conservative, but this is a good use of state money and I plan to lead the fight to get that study funded -- and not on the cheap.

My public forum was a good start in addressing this important issue. But Iím not going to stop there. I plan to follow this issue very closely and one of my major goals of next yearís General Assembly will be to not only secure funding for a study of the lowering levels of groundwater, but make sure that we follow all of the suggestions made to us by the study.

Additionally, I plan to introduce legislation that will make low cost loans available for people to replace their wells that can no longer draw water out of the aquifers. This problem became especially serious in the Breton Bay neighborhood in St. Maryís County this year, but Iím sure that is not a fluke, but a trend that will continue throughout Southern Maryland.

Wells are failing because their builders did not foresee what we are seeing now -- a lowering of the aquifers. It is essential that the people of Southern Maryland have access to well water and to gain that access, theyíll need to replace their old wells with deeper ones. This is a costly proposition and by providing low percentage loans to these homeowners, it will reduce their financial burden.

So, we may not have many answers right now to a very important issue. But the interest in the aquifer forum shows that people care deeply about this issue. Now is the time to do something about it and funding an aquifer study is the first step in ensuring that our area has plentiful water for many years to come.

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