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Water: Source Water Protection

Citizen Involvement in Source Water Protection

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Drinking water sources are vulnerable to contamination that can cause a community significant expense and threaten public health. Water is a shared resource, and individuals, citizen groups, and local communities can participate in many activities to help protect their drinking water sources. This page provides information on how to learn about source water protection in your area, things you can do to protect your drinking water and steps you can take in source water planning at the community level. The links to fact sheets, guides and other resources below can help citizens take an active role in source water protection.

You will need Adobe Reader to view some of the files on this page. See EPA's (PDF) page to learn more.

Do Your Part to Protect Drinking Water

Source water is a shared resource, and you can play a part in protecting it. If you have only a limited amount of time to give, check out EPA's fact sheets on:

Get a Copy of the Source Water Assessment for Your Public Water System

The 1996 amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act require that states ensure that a source water assessment is completed for every public water system. A source water assessment is a study and report, unique to each water system, that provides basic information about the water used as drinking water.

A source water assessment shows where drinking water comes from and identifies potential sources of contamination that could pose a threat to drinking water quality. The assessments are available to the public, and you can usually obtain a copy from your state or public water system.

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Manage Your Property to Protect Drinking Water

Many individual homeowners are responsible for their own private wells, septic systems, lawns and gardens. Good stewardship can help public health and the environment.

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Participate in Source Water Planning at the Community Level

You can work within your community, watershed or neighborhood to protect your drinking water. Water is a shared resource, and many partners are involved in implementing ground water protection through wellhead protection and surface water protection programs that use watershed management strategies. Both programs involve assessing the problems in the protection area, prioritizing management measures to address those problems and then implementing the management measures.

Use your assessment to identify and prioritize needed actions

The first step, assessing the problems in the protection area, has been completed for all public water systems. The assessment includes a delineation, a contaminant inventory and a susceptibility determination. If your assessment needs more local or detailed information, you can elaborate on an existing assessment report before you begin your management activities.

Work with your water utility

Water utilities are gatekeepers of public information, safety monitoring and emergency response. They have a critical role to play in promoting source water protection, including

  • Advocating source water protection
  • Providing annual drinking water quality reports (consumer confidence reports)
  • Creating opportunities for public participation, such as water board meetings and public forums
  • Educating consumers
  • Providing important information to non-English speaking residents
  • Identifying potential sources of contamination
  • Identifying and organizing other stakeholders
  • Working directly with owners/managers of potential sources of poluution

Visit the local drinking water information page for more information.

Focus federal, state and local partners on protecting drinking water sources

Many programs and organizations have some responsibility for water quality and land use planning. These can range from a town's conservation commission or local county extension agent to state agencies, nonprofit organizations, and federal agencies like the Forest Service. Some programs work specifically with small communities and water systems. A good question to ask when putting together a protection team is,"What other activities are going on in my watershed or wellhead protection area?"

Protecting sources of drinking water can also help various federal programs, states and communities meet other environmental and social goals, such as green space conservation, stormwater planning, management of nonpoint source pollution (such as runoff from agricultural lands) and brownfields redevelopment. For example, if your community is considering a stormwater ordinance, are the locations of the town's drinking water wells being considered? Can community open space needs be met by acquiring land just upstream of the drinking water intake?

Prevent, reduce or eliminate contamination threats in your water supply protection area

Communities can use a array of different source water protection methods to prevent contamination of their drinking water supplies.

  • Some management options involve regulations and ordinances, such as prohibiting or restricting land uses that might release contaminants in critical source water areas.
  • Education and outreach can also be effective. Many communities hold local events or distribute information to encourage citizens and businesses to protect drinking water sources by recycling used oil, limiting their use of pesticides or participating in watershed cleanup activities.
  • Many of the available management measures are known as best management practices (BMPs). BMPs are standard operating procedures that can reduce the threats that activities at homes, businesses, farms, and industrial facilities can pose to water supplies.
  • Purchasing land or creating of conservation easements can form a protection zone near the drinking water source.

For an effective protection program, communities should consider using a variety of prevention measures.

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Check Out Additional Resources for Citizen Involvement

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