Maryland Plan to Adapt to Saltwater Intrusion and Salinization

The Maryland Department of Planning developed the first state-level plan to address saltwater intrusion and salinization of freshwater resources in Maryland’s coastal areas. Saltwater intrusion in the region is expected to worsen over time due to climate change, and the report describes which of the state’s resources are at greatest risk, adaptation measures that are currently in use and recommended, and what additional research is needed for adequate adaptation and resilience. The plan offers adaptation strategies specifically for Aquifers, Surface Water, Agriculture, Coastal Wetlands, Coastal Forests, and Infrastructure. 

Maryland HB 1350 created the requirement for a Maryland plan to adapt to saltwater intrusion by the end of 2019 due to the increase in sea level rise and coastal flooding events. The Chesapeake Bay is the third most vulnerable area in the U.S. to sea level rise (SLR) and projections for Maryland of up to 1.6 ft SLR by 2050 and up to 4.2 ft SLR by 2100 are expected. Sea level rise and more frequent and intense storms due to climate change are increasing the problem and threat of saltwater intrusion into freshwater aquifers and salinization of fresh surface and soil waters. Saltwater intrusion and salinization affect drinking water and agricultural irrigation sources, make coastal farmland unusable, alter coastal wetland and forest ecology, and damage infrastructure. Maryland is currently experiencing all of these effects and expects the problems to increase and intensify with the progression of climate change and SLR. The image below illustrates the areas and resources at greatest risk.  

The plan is organized by six primary impacted resources including: aquifers, surface waters, agriculture, coastal wetlands, coastal forests, and infrastructure (roads, wells, septic systems and electric systems). Each section includes a description of the resource in Maryland and how saltwater moves into and affects that resource; the threats, concerns, and impacts of saltwater intrusion and salinization on the resource; research priorities; and priority adaptation strategies for near and long-term planning.

The plan summarizes and organizes adaptation measures into those that are recommended to implement now, those already being undertaken and which should continue or be used on an as-needed basis, and those that could be further examined to evaluate their use in a Maryland-specific context. Priority recommended adaptation strategies to implement now are focused on agriculture, wetlands, and coastal forests:

Farmers/Agricultural Land 

  • Develop a report that presents specifics for how to establish and implement conservation easements in Maryland that facilitate transitional land uses (e.g., saltmarsh) for salt-impacted farmland.
  • Establish additional education and assistance for farmers to address and prepare for salinization.
  • Promote the use of more sophisticated water control structures to prevent the inflow of saline waters into field drainage systems. 


  • Develop a statewide wetland adaptation plan, which would include identifying opportunities for migration of coastal wetlands, and in some cases, measures to make high priority wetlands more resilient. 

Coastal Forests 

  • Facilitate alternative uses for inundated forest land, such as promoting sika deer or duck hunting. 
  • Establish additional education and assistance for forest landowners to address and prepare for salinization, including development of a landowners’ outreach program.

Appendix A offers a summary of the plan’s research priorities and adaptation recommendations as well as a list of technical and financial resources. Appendices B and D offer additional adaptation policies and measures that could be considered, including for protecting high priority wetlands in place. 

Publication Date: December 2019

Related Organizations:

  • Maryland Department of Planning


Resource Category:

Resource Types:

  • Adaptation plan
  • Assessment

States Affected:


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