WaterOperator.org Blog

Articles in support of small community water and wastewater operators.

Developing Your Source Water Protection Program

Developing Your Source Water Protection Program

Effectively safeguarding drinking water sources will ensure that your community has reliable access to affordable, potable water for generations to come. As such, utilities of all sizes should strive to develop and implement a source water protection program. Not only do these programs reduce the need to adopt costly advanced treatment processes, but their value extends environmentally, socially, and through public health as well. By maintaining water quality at the source, systems protect a fundamental barrier under the multiple barrier approach. Furthermore, a protection program has potential to not only maintain, but improve water quality.

Developing and enforcing a source water protection plan will act as a proactive defense against contamination introduced from various land uses such as agriculture, commercial facilities, landfills, mining, oil and gas operations, stormwater runoff, failing septic systems, and more. A plan can also act to mitigate impacts from climate changes such as drought or saltwater intrusion. To start a program, systems can break down the process into six steps:

  1. Delineating your source water protection area
  2. Inventory sources of potential contamination
  3. Assess susceptibility of your system to these contaminants
  4. Notify and engage the public about these contaminant threats
  5. Develop and implement a protection plan to reduce, prevent, or eliminate threat
  6. Develop contingency planning strategies if source water is compromised

Of course, some of these steps are easier said than done. To assist in your source water protection endeavors, we’ve highlighted several resources to get you started. If you expect challenges along the way, consider contacting your regional Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) partner for support.

Before developing a plan, review your source water protection area and any existing contaminant sources identified by your state’s Source Water Protection Assessment Program (SWAP). Under the 1996 Amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act, state programs were required to identify the land area that could impact water quality at each public water system. In addition, each state program completed an inventory of potential contamination sources in that area, evaluated water quality susceptibility to that contamination source, and made these results publicly available under SWAP. States completed the source water assessments in 2002, but were not required to maintain updates. To locate the results of your assessment, start with the EPA’s Source Water Regional Contacts or contact your state’s source water protection program.

The methods in which source water protection areas were identified and evaluated depend on the state. Many states published resources on how they chose to carry out the SWAP as demonstrated in the Connecticut Department of Public Health’s SWAP document. For updated or more local source water delineations and contaminant source inventories, public water systems can reach out to local environmental consulting firms, federal agencies like the NRCS or USGS, state cooperative extensions, and local colleges. The EPA has also developed a How-To Manual to Update and Enhance Your Local Source Water Protection Assessments that describes why and how you should collect more data.

With the state SWAP results and the EPA’s How-To manual, utilities can complete the first three steps in developing a protection program. Making the public aware of these results will allow systems to start collaborating with local organizations on source water protection efforts. By engaging local stakeholders such as the town officials, environmental groups, watershed organizations, farmers, businesses, town’s conservation commission, county extension, non-profits, etc. systems will better understand any existing source water protection strategies, who is conducting them, and how the facility’s present and future strategies can collaborate with existing strategies.

Based on data gathered from the source water delineation, assessment, and susceptibility evaluation, utilities can work with local stakeholders to develop a protection and contingency plan. While protection plans are optional in many states, utilities should first check with their state’s source water protection program to determine if a plan is mandatory and, if so, what elements must be included. The ease of which a utility implements their protection plan will depend on source water location, contaminant threats, financial and technical resources, and the degree of community involvement. To develop the plan, public water systems will need to identify management strategies and the funding to facilitate the plan.

A strong source water protection plan will have clearly defined goals with a list measurable actions and those who are responsible for them. Most plans should also include a timeline to measure progress, requirements for water quality monitoring, and a plan to track the successful completion of measurable actions. The goals outlined in the plan will ultimately address the water quality risks identified in the assessment through land use controls, land acquisition, and education. The scope of the plan may range in focus from local, regional, or statewide involvement. Check out the 2019 Roswell Municipal Water System plan to view an example of a medium-sized system’s source water protection program. To help develop a plan of your own, we’d like to recommend the following:

Guides:

The Source Water Stewardship: A Guide to Protecting and Restoring Your Drinking Water
The Clean Water Fund
The handbook walks public water systems through the process of understanding an assessment, reaching out to stakeholders, and designing an action plan.

New Mexico Source Water and Wellhead Protection Toolkit
New Mexico Environment Department
This toolkit will help public water systems develop a source water protection program in six steps.>

Templates:

Drinking Water Source Protection Plan Template (Systems Serving <5,000 people)
Ohio Environmental Protection Agency
This template can be used by Ohio or other public water systems to outline a successful source water protection program. Instructions should be deleted from the Word document upon completion.

Source Water Protection Plan Template
Tennessee Association of Utility Districts
This Microsoft Word template can be used as a starting point for developing your source water protection plan.

Source Water/Wellhead Assessment & Protection Program Planning Guide
South Dakota Department of Environmental and Natural Resources
This 10-page guide describes the sections that should be included in a source water protection plan.

Notification Templates:

Wellhead Letter to Potential Contaminant Sites
Tennessee Association of Utility Districts
Use this letter template to request assistance and cooperation in implementing your source water protection program.

Wellhead Letter to County Mayor and Zoning Board
Tennessee Association of Utility Districts
This letter template can be used to request assistance and cooperation from the county mayor and zoning board in the development and implementation of a source water protection plan.

Developing an effective source water protection plan will take time and collaboration. For more resources on protection plans, check out our document library and use the category filter to filter by Source Water/Source Water Protection.


blog comments powered by Disqus