Image Place Holder right
Source water protection has a simple objective: to prevent the pollution of the lakes, rivers, streams, springs and ground water that serve as sources of drinking water. It is part of the growing effort to protect drinking water sources before they become contaminated. Wellhead protection, for example, seeks to prevent the contamination of ground water that supplies public drinking water wells. Many States have successful wellhead protection programs in operation. Local governments promote source water protection of surface water through sound land management around a reservoir, using local land use planning and zoning authority as the key.
Most source water protection programs address both surface water and ground water issues. Particularly in rural areas, ground water protection is essential to preserve health and safety and to sustain the local economy. Half of all Americans, and more than 95 percent of the country's rural population, depend on underground sources for their household water supplies. Ground water provides about half of all agricultural irrigation and a third of the water needs for industry. The other half of the population gets its drinking water from surface water supplies. This includes most of the larger metropolitan areas of the United States.
For generations, water quality was taken for granted. The passage of the Clean Water Act of 1972 initiated the first concerted federal effort to recognize and address water quality issues. Since then, the nation has made much progress and learned a lot about where pollution comes from and how it may be controlled. The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) amendments of 1996 extended our understanding of drinking water issues once again, with their focus on preventing contamination, rather than simply removing it when detected. Source Water Protection Process But moving from treatment to prevention will be a real challenge for local governments. Except when contamination occurs, drinking water has largely been out of sight and out of mind.
The SDWA, however, initiated a two-stage process to develop a coordinated, national Source Water Protection initiative. First, all public water systems (PWS) will receive a source water assessment of potential contaminant problems. These reports will be provided under each State's Source Water Assessment Program (SWAP). (Many States will provide public water systems or communities in which they are located with the opportunity to conduct parts of the assessment or to enhance the State's assessment by supplying more detailed local information.)
Second, public water systems will be strongly encouraged to develop appropriate source water protection plans based on the assessment results. These plans may be drawn up either individually, or in partnership with neighboring systems in the water-shed. EPA has set a goal that by the year 2005, 50 percent of all community water system (CWS) customers will be served by systems with source water protection in place. The risk of possible drinking water contamination, however, remains high almost thirty years after the passage of the original Clean Water Act.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that, "more than 80 percent of all drinking water systems report having at least one potential source of contamination within two miles of their water intake or well." An overwhelming number of the SWAPs propose to pay for all or a substantial portion of the cost for local assessments with the funding available through the 1997 Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) allocation. The source water protection, or problem-solving stage, however, will depend largely on local leadership and local dollars. While the 1997 DWSRF allocation was targeted only for assessments, clearly Congress intended for these assessments to lead to action.
Benefits of Source Water Protection.
Since source water protection is a new approach, there is little data on its long-term financial benefits. Benefits can be measured in terms of what the costs might be, if this protection was not provided. Some of the areas for which costs can be estimated are: increased treatment; remediation; consulting services; and staff time. There also may be significant costs to satisfy public and media interest and concern, if source water contamination does occur. The most dramatic costs involve locating a new water supply and the legal costs of litigating those responsible for contamination of an existing well or reservoir. Even if only a part of a town's water supply is lost, diminishing the reserves from other sources and installing new lines all have their costs.
Communities with effective source water protection programs may also enjoy substantial savings in complying with SDWA regulations. Source water protection programs, for instance, could help water suppliers avoid costs related to the Disinfection Byproducts Rule: cleaner source water simply requires less disinfection, thereby reducing the costs for removing byproducts related to disinfection. Water suppliers with source water protection programs in place may also be eligible for waivers from periodic monitoring requirements. Such waivers have already saved water systems in Massachusetts over $75 million in three years.
Under the Surface Water Treatment Rule's filtration waiver program, huge savings are potentially available to surface water systems with good source water quality and a working source water protection program. In Maine, 15 systems saved an average of $7 million each in capital costs by avoiding filtration. Safe drinking water is essential to community quality of life and to continued economic growth. Source water protection helps maintain real estate values in areas served by protected water supplies. When water supplies are not safe, towns may have to calculate the revenues lost in foregone tax revenues and new jobs because businesses refuse to locate or remain in communities with known or suspected problems.