Maryland Officials Concerned with Falling Groundwater Levels and Saltier Drinking Water

Swimming in the salty waters of Ocean City may be a treat for tourists, but local water officials are looking for ways to make sure that this saltwater doesn’t seep into the area’s drinking supply.

According to Delmarva Now, falling groundwater levels in Ocean City, MD have led to saltier drinking water for residents. The popular tourist destination is forced to ramp up its typical water withdrawals every summer to account for the visitors, which puts a strain on the groundwater supply.

“If we’re not careful, we might have the ability to draw salt water from offshore more rapidly to us,” said Jim Parsons, the town’s deputy public works director.

When groundwater wells are depleted, saltwater is sucked from the ocean to fill them back up. A Maryland Geological Survey report claims that Ocean City’s aquifer levels are expected to be 32 ft. lower than usual this summer, and the town’s water will be about 15% saltier.

USA Today recently reported that 64% of wells all across America have declined by an average of 10 ft., and while droughts are the primary culprit out west, it is agriculture and development that are to blame for Delmarva’s water issues.

“One thing we are facing here, with warming climate and rising sea levels, extra salt water is going to pushing its way inland,” said Scott Andres of the Delaware Geological Society.

There are currently over 147 million people around the world who do not have access to clean, potable water. While the conditions in Maryland aren’t nearly as dire as they may be in underdeveloped countries, saltwater intrusion is a credible threat to water quality throughout the state.

According to the Baltimore Sun, saltwater intrusion isn’t the only problem that concerns local water officials. Agricultural runoff is responsible for more than half the pollutants in state waterways, accounting for 36% of nitrogen and 53% of phosphorus in the bay.

Additionally, about 23% of nitrogen and phosphorus come from the state’s sewage treatment plants. This pollution has severely damaged Maryland’s ecosystem, and urban residents are being forced to pay for expensive treatments to reduce pollutants in their drinking water.

As for the saltwater intrusion, local officials are beginning to develop solutions that help to keep the groundwater fresh. Since wells are frequently being replaced due to age, officials are trying to drill new wells no closer than 2,000 ft. apart from one another to decrease salt concentration.

Dave Bolton, an author of the Maryland Geological Survey report, said that proper management and planning should ensure that the region’s water issues are resolved before tourists stream in to Ocean City in the summer.

“They are very proactive at doing that. They are thinking long-term,” Bolton said. “That’s the most basic ingredient that you can have for your population — water. You don’t want to mess it up.”

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