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MDE Highlights Importance of Properly Functioning Septic Systems and Drinking Water Wells for Groundwater Awareness Week Department Recommends Annual Maintenance to Protect Groundwater, Public Health

ANNAPOLIS, MD (March 14, 2013) - Maryland Department of the Environment Secretary Robert M. Summers today marked Maryland Groundwater Awareness Week by discussing drinking water wells and septic systems maintenance at Sandy Point State Park. He was joined by: Frank W. Dawson, Assistant Secretary, Department of Natural Resources; Duane Wilding, Senior Engineer, Maryland Environmental Service; and Kristin Mielcarek, Watershed Circuit Rider, Canaan Valley Institute. Secretary Summers presented Mr. Wilding with a proclamation from Governor Martin O’Malley recognizing March 10-16 as Maryland Groundwater Awareness Week in recognition of the Maryland Environmental Service’s well maintenance services at Sandy Point State Park.

A clean and abundant supply of groundwater is crucial to every aspect of our lives, including drinking water, household purposes, irrigation, business and industry. Maryland Groundwater Awareness Week encourages citizens to learn more about groundwater, how it can be potentially contaminated and what we as citizens of Maryland can do to protect it and our entire freshwater supply.

More Information
  • Two million Marylanders obtain their water from groundwater. 

  • Groundwater originates as rain that soaks into the ground, which absorbs it like a sponge. Water that soaks into the ground is filtered as it passes through various layers of sand, clay or rock and remains stored in underground in geologic formations called aquifers until it is pumped out or naturally flows into springs, streams, rivers or the Chesapeake Bay.

  • Every day, Americans use 79.6 billion gallons of fresh groundwater for public and private use, including for irrigation, livestock, manufacturing, mining and more.

  • Groundwater is vulnerable to pollution by anything we spill or dispose of on or under the ground, including waste from livestock, drainage from abandoned mines, salted roads, agricultural and industrial areas. Homeowners also contribute to groundwater contamination by dumping household chemicals down the drain if they have a septic system or by pouring them on the ground.

  • Groundwater contaminated with bacteria, chemicals, pesticides, gasoline or oil or excessive levels of nitrogen can result in serious human health problems. Those who consume contaminated groundwater may suffer bacterial diseases, nervous system disorders, liver or kidney failure, cancer or other ailments depending on the type and level of contamination.

  • Groundwater can be protected by making simple changes to your everyday activities such as using less water and disposing of hazardous materials and chemicals correctly. You can also protect groundwater and your health by maintaining your septic system according to manufacturer standards and having.

Core Facts About...

Well Maintenance

If you live in a home with a well, YOU are responsible for ensuring its safety and maintenance.  Mark your calendar to have your well tested and inspected yearly.

  • It is recommended that water be tested every year for total coliform bacteria, nitrates, total dissolved solids, and pH levels.

  • If you notice a change in your water, contact your local county health department to arrange for a test or to request a list of State-certified water testing laboratories serving your area.

  • Homeowners with wells should sample any time there is a change in odor, taste or appearance of the water.

  • If you suspect a problem with your water, survey your well and consider making simple changes to stay safe such as having your septic system checked or decreasing the amount of fertilizers or other chemicals used around your well.

Septic Systems

Here are a few tips for knowing when your septic system may be in trouble:

  • The septic tank has not been pumped out in the past five years. Even if the system appears to be working well, sludge may have built up to the point where waste water is released without sufficient time in the tank for treatment and settling of particles. This situation may result in pollution of groundwater or cause eventual clogging of the drain field.

  • A wet area or standing water occurs above the drain field. When these conditions occur, waste water does not move through the soil as it should, and instead rises to the surface creating a serious health risk and odor problems.

  • Toilets run slowly or backup. In the worst cases, the basement is flooded with sewage. This can be the result of plugged sewer lines to the tank, a plugged inlet or outlet pipe, a full septic tank, or a failed drain field.

  • Septic odors occur in the house, above the tank and drain field, or escape from the vent pipe. If the system is operating properly, there should be no odors. If there are odors, it can be an early warning sign that the system is failing.


“More than 400,000 Maryland homes currently use septic systems and get their water from wells. With proper maintenance and annual testing, our citizens can do their part to protect their health and Maryland’s groundwater. Groundwater is a precious and finite natural resource and is essential to the well-being of all Marylanders.”

-- Robert M. Summers, Secretary, Maryland Department of the Environment

“It’s all connected; the health of our groundwater, stormwater runoff and the Chesapeake Bay all ebb and flow interpedently. All of us must work together to do our part. For the recreational and commercial angler to the weekend boater, we must have a clean and vibrant Chesapeake Bay; Our fish, our customers and our children are relying on us.”  

-- Frank W. Dawson, Assistant Secretary, Department of Natural Resources

“Addressing failing septic systems may not seem like glamorous or important work, but residents with failing systems understand the threat these systems pose to the health of their families, the value of their property and quality of water in our streams and groundwater. Supported by MDE, county health departments and the Bay Restoration Fund, our work is vitally important to home owners in difficult situations, to their neighbors and to all of us who use and value our water resources.”

-- Jennifer Newland, Director, Canaan Valley Institute

“Maryland is blessed to have multiple aquifers that provide good water quality and abundant yield. It is a resource that has allowed Maryland to realize its full domestic and commercial potential. Recognizing its importance, regular well maintenance is essential to ensure water remains safe and uncontaminated.”

-- Duane Wilding, Senior Engineer, Maryland Environmental Service

Additional Information

View more photos from today's event on MDE's Flickr site



Samantha Kappalman

Jay Apperson


MDE Mission
Our mission is to protect and restore the quality of Maryland's air, water and land resources, while fostering smart growth, a thriving and sustainable economy and healthy communities.