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Maryland environment chief talks about importance of groundwater in visit to Hickory Elementary

Maryland Secretary of the Environment Ben Grumbles talks with fifth-graders at Hickory Elementary about the importance of groundwater.
Maryland Secretary of the Environment Ben Grumbles talks with fifth-graders at Hickory Elementary about the importance of groundwater. (Courtesy of Molly Mraz, Harford Health, Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Maryland Secretary of the Environment Benjamin H. Grumbles visited Hickory Elementary School Wednesday as part of the observance of National Groundwater Awareness Week, March 8 to 14.

Grumbles talked to a group of 50 Hickory Elementary fifth-grade students. He was joined by officials with the Harford County Health Department and Harford County Public Schools.

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Through interactive dialogue with the children, and supported by a demonstration, the lesson was designed to show the young people about the importance of protecting and preserving groundwater, an important, valuable and limited natural resources, organizers of the event said.

Often stopping to ask questions the students were eager to answer, the MDE secretary challenged them to work with their families to find ways to conserve water use and to avoid contamination of Maryland's watershed.

In interviews following his presentation, Grumbles referred to the students as "rock stars," noting their "enthusiasm and grasp of the basic concepts of environmental stewardship," according to a news release on the event.

MDE and the Harford Health Department noted about a quarter of all United States rainfall becomes groundwater, which provides much of the flow of many streams and lakes into the underground water table.

The majority of public water systems in the U.S. use groundwater as their primary source and nearly half of the American population depends on groundwater for its drinking water supply. Many of the communities in northern and western Harford depend on home wells for their drinking water.

MDE and the Maryland Department of Health & Mental Hygiene, in conjunction with its local health jurisdictions, collaborate closely on a variety of important initiatives of mutual interest and importance to both environmental protection and public health.

"All people by their living habits can protect or harm groundwater, our nation and the world's most abundant freshwater supply. The first step toward protecting groundwater is to become aware of how it can be contaminated. The second step is to do your part to keep from contaminating it," Harford County Health Officer Susan Kelly said in a statement following Wednesday's event in Hickory.

Although generally considered safe to use in the U.S., groundwater is susceptible to naturally occurring or man-made contamination from pesticides, industrial and agricultural wastes, Kelly's department noted.

Failures in treatment of municipal sewage or improper disposal into the environment also can pollute groundwater where human exposure to contaminants at harmful levels can lead to acute and chronic illnesses.

Grumbles, whose appointment was confirmed by the Maryland State Senate on March 6, has broad experience in energy, climate, air, waste and agricultural policy and regulation.

He formerly presided over U.S. Water Alliance, a Washington-based environmental nonprofit organization that educates the public on the value of water and the need for integrated and innovative solutions as well as serving in a number of significant federal and congressional environmental roles.

To learn more about the importance of groundwater, visit The Maryland Department of the Environment website, http://www.mde.maryland.gov, or the Harford County Health Department website, http://www.harfordcountyhealth.com.

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