Understanding and Protecting Source Water

Posted: July 9, 2012

Whether you use a public water supplier or have a private drinking water well, the water that you drink has to come from somewhere before it gets to you!

Source water is untreated water from streams, rivers, lakes or underground aquifers (water-rich rock formations) that is used to provide public drinking water, as well to supply private wells used for human consumption. Some water treatment is usually necessary, so public utilities treat most of the drinking water before it enters the home. However, the cost of this treatment, as well as the risks to public health, can be reduced by protecting source water from contamination. EPA, other federal agencies, states, local communities, businesses and citizens all play a role in ensuring that drinking water is protected.

Regardless of the location, protecting the area from which your water supply comes is important to ensure a safe water supply. 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.

You may have seen signs on the highway indicating, “Water Supply Area Next 2 Miles: Call 911 to report a spill”. These are a result of a community having a Source Water Protection Plan. This is a plan that has been put in place by using strategies to manage the local watershed. These programs involve assessing the problems and potential impacts to water supplies in the wellhead protection area, identifying and prioritizing management measures for those problems, and then implementing the management measures.

Implementing a drinking water protection strategy can be as simple as mowing weeds on a railroad right-of-way near a drinking water well instead using herbicides, or through far more complex ordinances and procedures. 

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) provides information online for communities interested in developing a source water protection plan. The website includes answers to common questions, basic groundwater information, the five-step process to develop a plan, and case studies that provide real-world examples of what has been done in other communities to protect this vital natural resource.

For additional information, visit the EPA Source Water Protection website.

Contact Information

Susan Boser
  • Extension Educator, Water Resources
Phone: 724-774-3003