PRINCESS ANNE — The well water crisis in northern Somerset County is now hammering customers who rely on water from the Somerset County Sanitary District. Because of requirements mandated by the Maryland Department of the Environment concerning two proposed wells on Revell’s Neck Road, millions of dollars in new development in and around Princess Anne is effectively shut down for up to three years.
And in the coming weeks, the Sanitary Commission will soon be considering water conservation measures.
At best, it will be one year before the wells adjacent to the site of the proposed Wal-Mart distribution center can be put into operation on an emergency basis only. To make them production wells, the Sanitary District will either have to devise a complicated water blending scheme, or install a reverse osmosis (RO) system that could cost $2 million.
The final decision from MDE is based on the fact that the two Patapsco aquifer wells have higher than acceptable levels of fluoride. The fluoride level must be reduced either through RO or mixing water from existing Manokin aquifer wells or new Pocomoke aquifer wells, which would have to be drilled and approved.
Sanitary District Manager Robin Street and his engineers met with MDE officials Oct. 10 in Baltimore, but were unable to convince them to relax their fluoride requirement despite the fact that the water from these two wells is potable and has the same characteristics as the community water in Fairmount and Crisfield.
Mr. Street said he favors blending as a way to reduce the fluoride level because an estimated 20 percent of the water sent through the RO process would be wasted and sent for treatment at the Princess Anne wastewater plant, further reducing its capacity.
MDE will let the two new Patapsco aquifer wells be opened on an emergency basis, but at no other time. To bring them online will take up to a year, and to meet the blending or RO requirement could take another year or more. All of this is adding to the expense of the entire project.
“Basically, it’s no water for two years,” Mr. Street said. It will be up to a year before the wells are available for emergencies, such as a regular production well going down, or a major fire, “but they will not support new development,” he said.
Permitting of the two wells could be completed by the end of the year, said consulting engineer Bob Palmer. From there, he estimated it could take three or four months to hire a contractor and drill the wells, then six to eight months after that for building the well house, testing the water and making the connections.
After that, the Sanitary District will have to figure out how to get the fluoride count to a permissible level, and get that method approved by MDE — which prefers RO.
“MDE was not a promoter of blending,” Mr. Palmer acknowledged, “but it will work if we get the right volume out of the Manokin.” He said blending, “is the least costly.”
Mr. Palmer said “I’m not sure if this is optimistic,” but he expected support from permitting agencies because of the urgency in solving the region’s water problem.
The Sanitary Commission’s tabling of new water allocation requests — which started earlier this year when the Crisfield Lane well had a marked reduction in output — will continue long into the future and effectively stop growth around Princess Anne.
The inability to provide water, said Town Manager Jay Parker, is holding up $84 million in proposed development. This includes several housing complexes and subdivisions, including Wainwright Manor, which at one time included nearly 360 units requiring over 100,000 gallons of water per day on the site of the former Princess Anne Campground.
Also held up would be any additional student housing for UMES, which plans to grow by more than 1,000 students.
One way around the water shortage would be to drill a private well — and that is what a proposed kidney dialysis center wishes to do. The Sanitary Commission is open to providing a sewer allocation only to Sai Partners Medical Office if it can provide water on its own until it can hook into the Sanitary District system.
A proposal floated by Mr. Parker, however, would not be allowed. The town manager suggested apartments could be built to use the heavily fluoridated water if they had water treatment systems for each unit or building. The Sanitary District is required to provide legally potable water, plus, a qualified treatment operator would have to be hired for each location.
Sanitary Commission member Tony Stockus said it was time to look at water conservation measures, particularly for large water consumers. From waterless urinals in new construction, to financial incentives for the installation of low-flow toilets “we need to try to build up a surplus of water.”
Water use bans at best would be voluntary because the Sanitary District has no one to enforce a mandatory order. The commission will consider water conservation plans at its next meeting.
Mr. Parker said town rental inspectors can make a special effort to ensure water is not being wasted through leaky sinks and toilets. A running toilet can use as much as 10,000 gallons of water per day.
The price for all of these changes to the two new wells are not known, and consulting engineers Davis, Bowen & Friedel are to “fast track” design and come up with cost estimates. The Sanitary District is currently replacing its Crisfield Lane well, and new wells on Hawk Lane and Loretto Road are also set to go online as “life preservers.”
But digging new wells into the Manokin aquifer is no longer an option. “You’re gradually working against yourself” if you dig new wells into the Manokin aquifer, said Commission member Tommy Wilson, who suggested it’s time to consider tapping into the Pocomoke aquifer if it’s available this far north.