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Water: Source Water Protection

EPA, State and Tribal Programs

Activities to protect drinking water are carried out through a number of programs and partnerships at the federal and state level. This page summarizes state and EPA programs involved in source water protection, including watershed-based, wellhead, ground water, and tribal water protection programs. The information below provides links to publications, tools, and resources for source water protection available through state, EPA and other federal programs.

Source Water Assessment and Protection Programs

The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) Amendments of 1996 required states to develop and implement source water assessment programs (SWAPs) to analyze existing and potential threats to the quality of the public drinking water throughout the state. Using these programs, most states have completed source water assessments for every public water system -- from major metropolitan areas to the smallest towns. Even schools, restaurants, and other public facilities that have wells or surface water supplies have been assessed. A source water assessment is a study and report, unique to a water system, that provides basic information about the water used to provide drinking water. States are working with local communities and public water systems to identify protection measures to address potential threats to sources of drinking water.

EPA publications and resources


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Wellhead Protection Program

The Wellhead Protection Program (WHPP) is a pollution prevention and management program used to protect underground sources of drinking water. The national WHPP was established under section 1428 of the 1986 SDWA amendments. The law specified that certain program activities, such as delineation, contaminant source inventory, contingency planning and source management, be incorporated into state WHPPs, which are approved by EPA prior to implementation. All states have EPA-approved state WHPPs. Although section 1428 applies only to states, a number of tribes are implementing the program as well.

WHPPs provided the foundation for many of the state source water assessment programs required under the 1996 SDWA amendments. Most states also use the wellhead protection program as a foundation for assessing and protecting ground water systems. State WHPPs vary greatly. For example, some states require community water systems to develop management plans, while others rely on education and technical assistance to encourage voluntary action. Other states have mandatory requirements for wellhead protection at the local level. Guidance, publications and other resources are available on state source water web sites.

EPA publications and resources

Non-EPA publications and resources

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State Ground Water Protection Programs

Many states have also developed programs that are focused specifically on ground water protection. Several states developed formal Comprehensive State Ground Water Protection Programs (CSGWPP), which were designed as a management tool for states to use to integrate all programs that affect ground water quality, thus allowing better decisions to be made. Although most states are no longer pursuing formal approval of a CSGW pp, virtually all states are pursuing at least some of the individual elements necessary for comprehensive ground water protection. Within EPA, the source water protection program is working with the underground storage tank program to address potential threats to ground water posed by leaking tanks.

Publications and resources


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Sole Source Aquifer Protection Program

A sole source aquifer supplies 50 percent or more of the drinking water for a given aquifer service area for which there are no reasonably available alternative sources, should the aquifer become contaminated. Designation as a sole source aquifer protects an area's ground water resources by requiring EPA to review any proposed projects within the designated area that are receiving federal financial assistance.

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Watershed-Based Protection Program

The goal of source water protection is to protect the drinking water resource by protecting and preserving the environmental quality of the watershed above the intake (or the aquifer around the well). The assessment is the first step in the process to protect the resource. Once a watershed has been assessed to determine its current condition and the extent of the threats to the system, a watershed plan can be developed and implemented.

EPA's Office of Water has numerous programs that focus on watershed protection under the Clean Water Act (CWA). The Act includes programs such as the Nonpoint Source Program, National Estuary Program, the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) Program, and the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program. Each of these programs encourage states to develop programs to promote watershed-based protection, and they have elements that support watershed-based planning and implementation. The federal programs are generally implemented at the state level.


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EPA, Other Federal and Non-governmental Programs

There is no single federal program for implementing source water protection plans and activities. However, many federal, tribal, regional, and local programs have tools and resources that can be used to focus on protecting drinking water. Source water protection can benefit, and benefit from, other EPA programs, other federal programs and non-governmental programs:

  • Other programs can use source water assessments and identified protection areas to set priorities for ongoing prevention efforts.
  • Identifying source water protection areas increases federal, state and local managers' awareness of other programs where participation might increase the protection of human health.
  • Protecting sources of drinking water can help various federal programs, states, organizations and communities meet other environmental and social goals, such as green space conservation, stormwater planning, management of nonpoint source pollution and brownfields redevelopment.
  • The benefits that EPA and other federal programs can provide to state and local source water assessment and protection efforts are potentially very large. These include information, technical and financial resources, and communication networks and enforcement authorities.

EPA program links

Other Federal Programs and Non-Governmenal Organizations


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Tribal Programs

EPA is firmly committed to helping tribes to assess the rivers, lakes, springs and aquifers that serve as tribal public water supplies and to implement measures to protect against contamination of these water resources.

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