Source Water Protection – Resources


Planning Tools

A wide variety of technical and managerial source water protection practices are available for use, including management practices for point and nonpoint pollution sources; stormwater management; wastewater treatment plant upgrades and maintenance; rules and assistance for maintaining septic systems; agricultural management practices, incentives, and land stewardship programs; erosion and sediment control for construction projects; land-use controls; source water monitoring
(including early warning monitoring and chemical and microbial pollutant source tracking); and watershed protection, management, and stewardship programs.

In order for a water utility to implement source water protection practices they must have a plan in place. The following two planning tools will help guide a utility in their decision making processes.

Source Water Assessment


The objective of a source water assessment is to identify point-sources and non-point-sources of potential contamination to drinking water source(s). For example, a point-source may be a business’ discharge pipe or a septic system. Examples of non-point-sources may be chemically treated agricultural land or disturbed land on a construction site.


  • Ultimately, the source water assessment will steer recommendations in the source water/wellhead protection plan, discussed below.
  • Your system may already have an initial source water assessment that your state, tribal, and/or federal regulatory authority developed.

Elements to include in a source water assessment

  • Identification and map(s) of the area(s) that influence the water source(s); these are the source water protection areas; resources may include previous studies, Geographic Information System (GIS) data, hydrologic studies of the area, hydrologists, zoning maps, aerial photography, satellite imagery, topographic maps, soil maps, geologic maps.
  • Inventory of documented and potential contamination sources within the protection area: current and future commercial, industrial, residential, waste management, and development activities, agriculture, etc. that may be potential threats to drinking water supplies.
  • Analysis of likelihood that contamination could occur: determine if there are already zoning or best management practices in place to protect wells, waterways, floodplains, wetlands, etc. from livestock, erosion, runoff, etc.
  • Analysis of contamination impact severity
  • Prioritization of contamination threats and vulnerabilities based on analysis.

Review and revision

A source water assessment addendum must be provided for each new water source added to the system.


Source Water/Wellhead Protection Plan


Virtually every stream, lake, river and aquifer in the United States is used as (or is connected to) a drinking water source. Protecting these source waters from contaminants is a major national priority in protecting public health through ensuring a clean, safe drinking water supply. The source water protection plan will respond to the priorities identified in the source water assessment (see above).


Writing the plan will normally require a project team including representatives from not only the water system, but also agricultural/commercial/industrial/development businesses, any local/state/federal/tribal entities with authority to make regulatory or land use decisions in the source water protection areas, other water providers, conservation/environmental/watershed groups, teachers, and citizens.
Elements to include in a source water assessment

  • You may wish to document public and stakeholder involvement and who was on the project team in your written plan.
  • Using the threat/vulnerability prioritization in the source water assessment (see above), the team will identify ways to minimize or eliminate each threat/vulnerability or group of similar threats.
  • From source to tap, there are numerous points to capture and safeguard clean water or treat contaminated water.
    • The source: the lakes, rivers, streams, reservoirs, and aquifers (groundwater sources) that provide drinking water
    • Treatment, through filtration and disinfection, is the next barrier against contaminated water
    • The final barrier is infrastructure.
  • Regulatory tools such as zoning & permits, health regulations, and performance standards may be used to protect water sources. If a water system is in an unincorporated area where no zoning or subdivision regulation can be applied, the water system still has a variety of tools it can employ to protect its water source(s). Non-regulatory management tools include public education, citizen involvement, best management practices (BMPs are often applicable to agricultural land), land or conservation easement acquisition and protection (such as fences), and water conservation (to minimize the intrusion of contaminants or saltwater into groundwater, which can happen when they migrate into the space where groundwater used to be).

Elements to include in a source water or wellhead protection plan

  • Source water assessment: protection area(s) delineation, potential contaminants and threats inventory, analyses, prioritization (see above).
  • Management measures to prevent, reduce, or eliminate threats:
    • Using the information gathered and analyzed in the assessment allows management measures to be formulated and put in place that address each threat or array of risks specific to your system
    • The use of both non-regulatory and regulatory management practices is encouraged.
  • Public education
    • Notify and involve the public about threats identified in the contaminant source inventory and how they affect the water system
    • Ensure that the public has information necessary to control and modify their own actions to prevent contamination and to participate effectively in community activities to protect drinking water.
  • Monitoring: Test for water quality, ensure that management measures are properly implemented, followed, and maintained, etc.
  • Contingency planning: this item will be completed the same way as for an emergency water supply plan; refer to your emergency water supply plan if it is a stand-alone document or incorporated into your emergency response plan.

Review & revision

A source water protection plan addendum must be provided for each new water source added to the system. Otherwise, source water protection plans and implementation should be reviewed annually, but no less than once every five years.

Selected Resources

Operational Guide to AWWA Standard G300, Source Water Protection, Second Edition
Download HERE

Hopper, Kim, and Ernst, Caryn. Source Protection Handbook – Using Land Conservation to Protect Drinking Water Supplies. The Trust for Public Land and the American Water Works Association, 2005.
Download HERE

United States Environmental Protection Agency. Consider the Source: A Pocket Guide to Protecting Your Drinking Water. Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water, June 2002.
Download HERE
Elements to include in a source water or wellhead protection plan

  • Protecting Your Drinking Water Through Wellhead Protection – A “How To” Workbook For Small Water Systems. Undated. Download HERE
  • Protecting Your Watershed Through A Source Water Assessment and Protection Plan – A “How To” Workbook for Communities and Watershed Groups.
  • Wellhead Protection Workbook. January 1993. Downlaod HERE
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