The Somerset County Sanitary District Commission has struggled for five years to get permits to drill much needed wells at Revell’s Neck. These wells would enable residential construction to go forward and would have a direct and beneficial impact on the quality of life of Somerset County residents.
The Maryland Department of the Environment has held up the permits for these wells. They have insisted the water pumped from the wells be treated to comply with fluoride standards set but not mandated by the federal government. These fluoride standards, known as “secondary” standards, are not mandatory because there is no consensus in the scientific community that they actually serve health care objectives.
The Maryland Legislature has elected not to enforce secondary standards for fluoride, and has prohibited the Secretary of the Environment from attempting to enforce them.
Nonetheless, Secretary Shari Wilson has refused to issue permits for our Revell’s Neck wells until we agree to treat the water in those wells to meet secondary standards for fluoride. We have refused because the only treatment method available is the so-called “reverse osmosis” or “RO” method, which is environmentally unsound (and would add excessive costs to the local user fees.)
The reverse osmosis process produces a voluminous discharge rich in minerals, utilizing a vast quantity of water, which of course, is the very resource we are attempting to conserve. These minerals are harmful pollutants, and cannot be released without treatment. We believe RO technology is inescapably offensive, whether to environmentalists who are appalled at the release of mineral rich discharge into the Chesapeake Bay, or to conservationists, who are equally appalled at the wasteful use of water needed to clean up the discharge.
Rather than embrace this dilemma, we have told Secretary Wilson we will not pursue RO technology.
We have also told her we will not join in applying for federal stimulus funds whose only use will be to partially subsidize RO technology. As we have explained, the health benefits secured by RO purification processes are dubious, but the damage they inflict on the environment is certain. We would not be exercising our stewardship responsibilities were we to pursue federal funding for an undertaking we think is wrong.
But even were federal stimulus funding obtained, it would be conditioned upon the residents of Somerset County matching a portion of the funding with a local share. We have been told that the daily operational costs would be an average of $700 per year per user of the Princess Anne Subdistrict. Partial federal stimulus funding for reverse osmosis treatment of these wells will increase the water bills paid by residents of one of the state’s poorest counties beyond $700 a year. We are not willing to subject our constituents to that burden.
We are also unwilling to abandon our quest to secure the permits for the Revell’s Neck wells. The water those wells represent is badly needed by the people of Somerset County. We will continue to pursue litigation to force the secretary to stop using bureaucracy to extract improper concessions as the price of water.