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Shortage of rainfall makes state water study welcome

July 31, 2007

The two inches of rain that fell on Washington County this weekend were most welcome in a year in which precipitation has been far below normal.

This summer's dry weather underscores the need for a comprehensive look at the county's groundwater resources. Fortunately, state officials have already begun such an effort.

The effort is most welcome. In an interview with The Herald-Mail's Marlo Barnhart, dairy farmer Donnie Beard likened the current conditions to those of 1999.

In September of that year, a 14-month dry spell ended only when storms associated with Hurricane Dennis brought two inches of rain in a single weekend.

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But the lack of rain was still a problem in 2002, so much so that the Washington County Commissioners declared a moratorium on large-scale rural developments.

They said at the time they did so because they feared such development would deplete the county's groundwater resources.

Their concern was well-founded. In March of that year, Extension Agent Jeff Semler said it would take four years of above-average rainfall to make up the deficit.

That same year, the Washington County Health Department reported issuing 117 permits for replacement wells - with an average depth of 325 feet.

We mention this history because after a building moratorium that was extended several times, the county needs to know more about its groundwater resources.

County Administrator Greg Murray said this week that the county had considered doing such a study, but decided it would be a duplication of efforts because the state is doing its own study.

Instead of a countywide study, Murray said the state will study the county section by section, based on the number of permits filed. Boonsboro is the first section to be completed, he said.

We urge state officials to consider doing other sections of the county before too many permits are filed. It would be easier to direct development if county officials knew that underground water supplies were limited in certain areas or if those supplies were contaminated.

The National Ground Water Association estimates that 45.9 percent of all Americans depend on that resource for their daily needs, either through privately owned wells or through community water systems.

Washington County residents need to know - sooner rather than later - how much they can depend on this vital resource.

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