Last week, my colleagues and I advocated for a pair of clean water bills in Maryland and Virginia, which were spurred by research completed by the Center for Progressive Reform (CPR). One would create a Private Well Safety Program in Maryland, and the other would create an aboveground chemical storage tank registration program in Virginia.
Both laws are sorely needed. This two-part blog series explains why. Today’s piece looks at our efforts to protect clean drinking water in Maryland; check back tomorrow for Part II, which explores our collaborative efforts to protect Virginians from toxic chemical spills.
In 2020, CPR policy analyst Katlyn Schmitt and I investigated nitrate concentrations in drinking water on Maryland’s Lower Eastern Shore — where much of the state’s agricultural activity is concentrated — and analyzed state policies designed to protect private well owners. We found that Maryland was one of five states with the fewest well water protections nationwide. These findings were published in our report, Tainted Tap: Nitrate Pollution, Factory Farms, and Drinking Water in Maryland and Beyond.
Spurred by these findings, Maryland Del. Vaughn Stewart introduced legislation (House Bill 1069) to establish critical protections for Maryland well owners. A pared down version of the bill passed last year, requiring landlords to test private wells periodically, notify tenants, and address contaminated water. Four other states currently have similar requirements. The law is less than we hoped for, but a victory for public health and safety nonetheless.
After the bill’s passage, Del. Stewart organized biweekly meetings with staff from environmental nonprofits, the Maryland Department of Environment (MDE), local county health departments, and other groups to resolve concerns with the original bill and gain consensus on how to strengthen protections for well owners going forward.
Stronger Legislating Pending
Seven months later, Del. Stewart introduced the Private Well Safety Act (House Bill 250), a much stronger bill that would:
- Require MDE to establish a Private Well Safety Program to help eligible residents pay for water test kits and, when unsafe levels of contamination are found, well remediation.
- Require MDE to create an accessible online database of well water quality test results, and require county health departments and state-certified labs to periodically upload water quality test results to the database.
- Require homeowners to test well water prior to sale and disclose the results to potential buyers.
Last Wednesday, Katlyn and I testified in support of the bill at Maryland’s House Environment and Transportation committee hearing alongside six other experts, and 27 organizations signed onto our written comment in support. There was no opposition testimony at the hearing.
While we wait for the bill to move through the state legislature, we remain hopeful because it is backed by public health and environmental advocates, regulators, community members, and other stakeholders. The more than 800,000 Marylanders who rely on private wells can no longer be left in the dark about the safety of their drinking water.
To stay up to date on the fate of Maryland’s Private Well Safety Act, and Marylanders’ public health and safety, follow us on Twitter. And check back tomorrow to learn about our work to protect public health and waterways in neighboring Virginia.