A New York Times investigation into the country’s groundwater usage that says the U.S. is “squandering” its aquifers mischaracterizes the situation in Charles County, a local official said.

In the Times article, Jason Groth, the acting director of the county’s Department of Planning and Growth Management, is paraphrased as saying the county will “hit a point within a decade where it doesn’t have enough water.” But, Groth said in an interview with The Banner, the situation is much more nuanced.

If Charles County made no changes and did not add sources of water to its supply, then it would reach a point in the future when it is exceeding its permitted usage of water with the state, Groth said. But that is not the same as saying there would be no water left under the ground in Charles County or that wells would start to run dry, he said.

The county is actively working on a pipeline to bring in more water from the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, a D.C.-area utility that supplies up to 1.4 million gallons of water to Charles County each day. The new pipeline will allow the county, under an already executed agreement, to bring in up to 6.4 million gallons of water per day, Groth said.

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In addition to the pipeline project, Charles County is looking at the feasibility of building a desalination plant along the Potomac River to provide more water.

“I’m not worried,” Groth said. “But I also want to show respect for our water resources and not take these resources lightly. I don’t want people to think we’re just being dismissive. No, we’re spending money every year to ensure we keep a careful eye on these resources to ensure an adequate water supply.”

During a Board of County Commissioners meeting last week, one resident used the public comment period to ask how the county was managing groundwater, and multiple commissioners expressed their own concerns.

Groth, who attended the meeting via Zoom, was asked to talk by the commission president.

“The article that I was quoted in, unfortunately, is a bit of a misquote,” he said during the meeting.

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He gave a brief explanation of the plan to pipe in water from the nearby utility and research the desalination plant.

One commissioner, Amanda M. Stewart, said the solution was a “Band-Aid” and that it would not “help for generations to come.” Some commissioners also raised concerns about cost. Both options are more expensive than pumping water up from an aquifer.

In an interview, Groth acknowledged water costs could increase in Charles County but not to the extreme that some are worried about.

“It is not going to be a tenfold increase,” he said.

Charles County is not the only area that depends on groundwater. Most Marylanders who live on the state’s coastal plain (which is essentially anyone living east of I-95) use it. The latest available estimate is that about 39% of Marylanders use groundwater — but that data is from 2015, said Gregg Bortz, a spokesperson for the Department of Natural Resources.

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And, while the Times investigation accurately points out that many groundwater monitoring wells in Maryland have shown declining levels of water, officials stressed they do not think the state is at risk of “squandering” the water resources here.

Water use in Maryland is permitted at the state level and, Bortz said, “it is very unlikely that there will ever be a point where groundwater is completely depleted in any of the aquifers in Maryland,” especially because of the state’s active management of them.


Cody Boteler is a reporter on The Banner’s Express Desk, reporting on breaking news, trending stories and interesting things in and around Baltimore. His work has appeared in The Baltimore Sun, USA TODAY, Baltimore magazine and others.

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