- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 3, 2008

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — The state’s largest prison will get a new well after complaints that it drew too much water from an Eastern Shore aquifer relied on by hundreds of residents whose wells went dry last summer.

The state Board of Public Works voted 3-0 yesterday to spend more than $244,000 building a new well at the Eastern Correctional Institution (ECI) in Somerset County. The prison’s water use came under scrutiny after more than 100 wells in Somerset and Wicomico counties using the Manokin Aquifer went dry last summer, and a state analysis showed the prison was drawing far too much water from the aquifer.

The new well, the prison’s third, will draw from the Patapsco Aquifer. The project also includes plans to build a “reverse osmosis” treatment facility so that water drawn from the Patapsco aquifer is drinkable.

Though the Maryland Department of the Environment said last summer it was not clear whether the prison caused more than 120 private wells to go dry, the department ordered the prison to cut its usage within a month from 230,000 gallons a day to its permitted 25,000 gallons a day.

The medium-security prison, which holds about 3,300 male inmates, is allowed to draw 900,000 gallons a day from the Patapsco Aquifer.

Comptroller Peter Franchot said after the vote that the drilling of a new well this year should alleviate concerns from neighbors that the prison is causing well failures.

“I think that will substantially help the local concerns,” he said.

State environmental officials said last summer the Manokin was not seriously damaged, just running low enough to cause small wells in the area to run dry. Some residents faulted the state agency for approving water-use permits at the prison and at a sod farm that drew from the aquifer, setting up a possible condition known as mining, in which more water is pumped out than can be naturally replenished.

Kim Lamphier, a spokeswoman for the Department of the Environment, said yesterday that the well failures “were due to a variety of factors, most significantly, the prevalent drought conditions that have existed in the Eastern Shore for several months,” she said.