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Source Water Protection (SWP)

How Can You Help Protect Source Water?

Communities, citizen groups, and individuals can take an active role in protecting their drinking water sources from contamination. The resources below provide information about source water protection and steps you can take at the local level to protect your drinking water.

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Learn About Source Water Protection

Learn About Your Drinking Water Source

Your drinking water utility includes information about the drinking water source in their annual drinking water quality report, also called a Consumer Confidence Report (CCR). A CCR also tells you how to get a copy of the source water assessment for your drinking water source. Find your local CCR online.

Learn more about source water assessments, or ask your drinking water provider if there are any source water protection projects or groups you can support.

Take Everyday Actions

Use and Dispose of Harmful Materials Properly

Don't pour hazardous waste down the drain, on the ground, or into storm sewers. This could contaminate the soil, groundwater, or nearby surface water.

A number of products used at home contain hazardous or toxic substances that can contaminate ground or surface waters, such as:

  • Motor oil
  • Pesticides
  • Leftover paints or paint cans
  • Mothballs
  • Flea collars
  • Household cleaners
  • A number of medicines

EPA's Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) program has more advice on how to safely manage and reduce the use of these materials.

Think Twice about Lawn and Garden Chemicals

Limit the use of pesticides or fertilizers, and always follow the label directions. Many fertilizers and pesticides contain harmful chemicals which can travel through the soil and contaminate groundwater or run off in stormwater to rivers, streams, and lakes. EPA evaluates pesticides to ensure that when they are used according to label directions they will not harm people, non-target species or the environment. 

Properly Maintain Your Septic System

Groundwater can be contaminated by poorly or untreated household wastewater, which poses dangers to drinking water and to the environment. Malfunctioning septic systems release bacteria, viruses, and chemicals to local aquifers and waterways. The average household septic system should be inspected at least every three years by a septic service professional. Household septic tanks are typically pumped every three to five years. Alternative systems with electrical float switches, pumps, or mechanical components should be inspected more often, generally once a year. 

Find more information on the SepticSmart Homeowners webpage.

Dispose of Your Medications Properly

In homes that use septic tanks, prescription and over-the-counter drugs flushed down the toilet can leach into the ground and seep into groundwater. In cities and towns where residences are connected to wastewater treatment plants, prescription and over-the-counter drugs poured down the sink or flushed down the toilet can pass through the treatment system and enter rivers and lakes. These water sources may flow downstream to community drinking water supplies. Water treatment plants are generally not equipped to routinely remove medicines.

EPA encourages the public to take advantage of pharmaceutical take-back collection programs that accept prescription or over-the-counter drugs, as these programs offer a safe and environmentally-conscious way to dispose of unwanted medicines.

Learn more about safe ways to collect and dispose of unwanted medicines.

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Volunteer in Your Community

Find or Start a Group

Find a watershed or wellhead protection organization or a source water collaborative in your community and volunteer to help. If there are no active groups, consider starting one. Use the Source Water Collaborative's How to Collaborate ToolkitExitto get started. 

Picture of a volunteer picking up plastic litter on the coast of a river clean-up project.

Join in a Beach, Stream, or Wetland Cleanup

You can make new friends while you help protect source water. 

Prepare a Presentation about Your Watershed for a School or Civic Organization 

Discuss water quality threats, including the dangers of polluted runoff and ecosystem loss. In your presentation, highlight actions people can take to protect water quality, such as limiting fertilizer use and properly maintaining their septic systems. 

Organize a Storm Drain Stenciling Project 

Stencil a message next to the street drain. This reminds people not to dump waste into a street drain, which leads to local water sources such as rivers.  Use simple images and words when stenciling to help make the connection, such as: 

  • Fish
  • Streams 
  • Lakes 
  • Groundwater 
  • Bays 
  • Ocean"Protect Your Water" logo with the image of a glass and faucet 

You can also use stencils to produce and distribute flyers to your neighbors. Remind residents that storm drains dump directly into their local water source. 

Put Up Signs 

Post signs along the border of your source water protection area to notify people that any pollution in that area can affect the quality of local drinking water. 

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Participate in Source Water Protection at the Community Level

Identify Community Partners

Water is a shared resource. You can work within your community, watershed, or neighborhood to protect your drinking water.

Many partners are involved in implementing source water protection through watershed management strategies involving:

  • Assessing the potential sources of contamination in the protection area;
  • Prioritizing efforts to reduce potential of impacts; and
  • Implementing management measures.

Use Your Assessment to Identify and Prioritize Needed Actions

States have completed the first step of assessing the protection area for all public water systems. Each assessment includes a delineation, a contaminant inventory, and susceptibility determination. You may find that the assessment in your local area is outdated.

Visit the assessment page to learn how it can be updated.

Work with Your Water Utility

Water utilities provide the public with information, safety monitoring, and emergency response. They have a critical role to play in promoting source water protection, including:

  • Advocating for source water protection;
  • Providing annual drinking water quality reports (i.e., consumer confidence reports);
  • Creating opportunities for public participation (such as water board meetings and public forums);
  • Educating consumers;
  • Identifying potential sources of contamination;
  • Identifying and organizing other stakeholders; and
  • Working directly with owners and managers of potential sources of pollution.

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