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Groundwater week serves as reminder of resource beneath your feet

This week, March 6 through 12, is the annual observance of National Groundwater Awareness Week, and health officials would like people to take a few moments to reflect on the precious resource that rests directly beneath their feet.

Groundwater supplies more than 75 percent of community water systems across the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and some 13 million people get their drinking water from wells, a reality that is reflected on a smaller scale here in Carroll County.

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"Most of the county, public and private, gets most of its water from groundwater," said Leigh Broderick, director of environmental health at the Carroll County Health Department. "It is our primary source of drinking water, with the exception of a few little pockets like Eldersburg, that gets some of its water from the Liberty Reservoir. Westminster has its reservoir, but … I do believe the reservoir is topped off from the wells from time to time."

With that reliance on groundwater comes a simple truth about the connectedness of the community, according to Richard Brace, water quality supervisor with the Health Department.

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"Anything you throw on the ground will eventually work its way down into the soil and down into the water table," Brace said. "You need to be a good steward of the groundwater."

That means not dumping oil from an oil change or other chemicals on the lawn where they could eventually wind up in someone's drinking water, according to Broderick, as well as being judicious with the amount of fertilizer used on the lawn. But it also means being careful of what you flush or rinse down the drain if you live on a septic system.

"The whole purpose of the septic system is to put the water part of the sewage back into the ground," he said. "Whatever is going into your groundwater through your septic system is probably going to either come out in a stream somewhere or be pulled up in somebody's well somewhere."

Household chemicals and, increasingly, pharmaceuticals improperly tossed in the toilet can wind up in streams, harming wildlife or in someone else's drinking water, according to Broderick. It's worthwhile to even take care of what you have on your hands when you wash them, he said.

"If you are doing your own oil changes you should dispose of the oil properly, but even the oil you get on your hands you should try to get as much off with paper towels and your cleaner and then wipe your cleaner off with the paper towels and throw them out in a trash bag before you wash your hands," he said. "When I was a kid, we would douse our paint brushes in the laundry tub with paint thinner. I think about that now and I would never, ever do that now, but nobody told me as a kid."

Groundwater contamination is more than academic if you live on well water yourself, according to Broderick, who said he considers good well maintenance to be critical to protecting groundwater. The Health Department issues permits for new wells and inspects them, but older wells can sometimes fall into disrepair or might still use outdated equipment that can lead to problems, he said.

"We found out about 20 years ago that we were having lots of bacterial problems that were stemming from insects actually getting into the wells," Broderick said. "At that point, we started requiring that they put on what's called a sealed and vented well cap. If it's properly installed, nothing can get in there with regards to insects or vermin."

If you have an older well, just a visual inspection of the well cap can sometimes indicate if there is a problem with your water supply, according to Brace.

"The well cap is usually the first thing I look at. I go up to the well, look at the condition of the well: Is the cap intact? Are the bolts holding the seal tight?" he said. "The other week, I went out and this gentleman had a complaint about dirt in his well, and it was an older-style well cap that wasn't sealed. I explained that I could see that there was dirt from flooding from the snow that was getting under the cap."

Sometimes people are concerned about their well water quality, the condition of their well or something a water testing company has told them; Brace said the Health Department is a resource for those who need more information.

"People can call us and ask us questions about their well maintenance and things like that, for an unbiased opinion," he said.

More information:

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For more information on groundwater and well maintenance, call the Department of Environmental Health at the Carroll County Health Department at 410-876-1884 or go online to www.cchd.maryland.gov/environmental-health.

410-857-3317

twitter.com/CCT_Health

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