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Water: Polluted Runoff

Source Water Protection

Source water protection involves preventing the pollution of the groundwater, lakes, rivers, and streams that serve as sources of drinking water for local communities. Source water protection ordinances help safeguard community health and reduce the risk of contamination of water supplies. When drafting an ordinance aimed at protecting these sources, the drinking water supplies can be divided into two general sources; aquifers and wells (groundwater) and lakes and reservoirs (surface water). Wellhead Protection (WHP) Zones and Aquifer Protection Areas are two examples of source water protection ordinances that seek to protect groundwater sources. Water Supply Watershed Districts and Lake Watershed Overlay Districts are examples of local management tools that provide protection to surface water supplies by restricting land uses around a reservoir used for drinking water.

Communities may take for granted that a plentiful supply of high quality drinking water will be available. However, drinking water sources, whether they be from ground water, or surface water, or both, are a vulnerable natural resource that needs to be protected. To ensure that these drinking water sources are protected most effectively, an ordinance should contain several basic concepts. First, source water planning should be done on a scale that ensures protection of the whole recharge zones for that source water. For surface waters, communities may wish to create overlay zoning districts that have boundaries large enough to protect both the source water resource and the tributaries and streams that contribute to the resource. For groundwater, communities could consult with the USGS to be sure their overlay zoning district encompasses the entire area that recharges any aquifer. Second, an ordinance should have language specifying allowable and prohibited land uses within the source water protection zone. For example, many source water protection ordinances limit or forbid the storage of hazardous materials and place restrictions on the location of businesses that use these materials within the overlay district. An ordinance should also include procedures for review of proposed projects within a source water protection district to verify that the project is consistent with the ultimate goal of the ordinance. This might include requiring applicants to submit geotechnical and hydrological analyses to determine the potential impacts to water quality and the submission of spill control plans for businesses performing potentially contaminating activities. Finally, language explaining the mechanisms for enforcement of the requirements of the ordinance, including the civil and criminal penalties that may apply for failure to obey, should be included.

The source water protection ordinances are divided into two separate categories: a source water (groundwater) protection category and a surface water (reservoir) protection category. Each category contains a model ordinance and five example ordinances from around the country. The language for each of the models is borrowed from a number of ordinances and communities will need to assess what the appropriate requirements are for their area. In addition, some of the example ordinances have language addressing issues not dealt with in the model, and officials are encouraged to examine each of the ordinances for the best language to meet the specific needs of their community.


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