Challenges of Source Water Protection Implementation

How One Municipality Balances Economic & Public Health Interests

Author: Mark Eisner, P.G.

Salisbury, Maryland is a fast-growing municipality situated on and withdrawing groundwater from the extraordinarily productive and vulnerable Salisbury Paleochannel aquifer. Geologists believe that the Paleochannel may be part of the ancestral Susquehanna or Chesapeake Bay delta, deposited during the ice age when sea level was lower but river discharges were higher, from glacial meltwater.  The very coarse sediments of the Paleochannel suggest a high-velocity, high-discharge depositional environment unlike anything found today on the Eastern Seaboard.

The value of the Paleochannel as an important groundwater resource has been known for decades. The susceptibility to groundwater contamination borne of incompatible land uses also has been a focus of evaluation by the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) and the Maryland Geological Survey and resulted in land use protection ordinance, by both the City of Salisbury and by Wicomico County.

Given all of this, and in cognizance of continuing land development pressures within the Paleochannel and elsewhere in the source water protection area, the firm (ALW, a Barton & Loguidice company) updated the 2003 Source Water Assessment following technical guidance and advice received from MDE. We then worked with the City to develop a customized set of recommendations, centered on proscriptive land use restrictions, but also entailing other measures to achieve ongoing source water protection.

Salisbury and Wicomico County already have separate, proscriptive ordinances (one City and one County). However, we found that both ordinances warranted revision. They did not address equally susceptible supply wells outside the Paleochannel and did not reflect differential risks posed by various contaminant species with differential distances and travel times from the release points to the wells. In light of this, we came to develop comprehensive recommendations for a singular multi-jurisdictional ordinance reflective of gradations in both distance (source-to-well) and specific nature of the contamination hazard. For consistency, we also recommend enforcement irrespective of the identity of those inconvenienced or affected.

Not long after the MDE-funded source water protection plan update concluded, a new wave of development pressure again brought the local press to focus on the Paleochannel and its protection from contamination arising from incompatible land uses. We continue to recommend ordinance consolidation and even more importantly, that their proscriptive measures be applied and enforced.  The presentation will present and discuss our ordinance recommendations in detail, in the context of recent proposed development activity.

Mark Eisner, P.G., will be presenting on this topic at the 2019 Harrisburg Area Geological Society (HAGS)/Association of Environmental & Engineering Geologists (AEG) Fall meeting on Thursday, November 14, 2019.

Lucia Forte