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Source Water Protection (SWP)


Protecting sources of drinking water requires a wide cross-section of partners that are engaged in the assessment and protection process. Examples of many of the important partners are included below, along with the role they may play in source water protection. Partnerships can be both formal and informal.  Some communities have established local source water collaboratives and others engage with partners on an as-needed basis while developing source water assessments, protection plans, and implementation activities.

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Federal Government

EPA works to provide information and encourage partnerships for source water protection planning. Under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) and Clean Water Act (CWA) , EPA provides tools to protect source water.  Learn more about the role of EPA in source water protection here.

Many other federal agencies also have a role in protecting drinking water sources. Land management, agriculture, wildlife, scientific, and public health agencies also work to protect the quality and quantity of source water through management practices, research, data sharing, funding, and public outreach and education. 

USDA, Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) Conservation Programs: NRCS provides technical and financial assistance to agricultural producers for land and resource conservation. For example, NRCS programs help eligible agricultural producers implement conservation practices, improve resource conditions (e.g., water and soil quality), conserve lands through easements, enhance water management, and plan for action/practices that improve agricultural productivity and protect natural resources. Drinking water utilities and other source protection partners have opportunities to integrate source water protection objectives with NRCS conservation program concerns. NRCS obtains information and advice from State Technical Committees, which may include state water agencies, water utilities groups and other water stakeholders, on the implementation of the natural resources conservation provisions of Farm Bill legislation. Community water systems and state drinking water programs can work with NRCS Regional and State Conservationists and/or participate in State Technical Committee meetings to help NRCS identify source water protection opportunities.

Source Water Protection in the 2018 Farm Bill: The 2018 Farm Bill requires that 10 percent (~$4 billion) of funds authorized for conservation programs be used to protect sources of drinking water, increases incentives for agricultural producers to implement practices that benefit source water protection, and authorizes NRCS and their State Technical Committees to work with community water systems to identify state/local source water protection priorities.

The National Water Quality Initiative: In 2012, NRCS launched the National Water Quality Initiative (NWQI), in collaboration with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and state water quality agencies, to reduce nonpoint sources of nutrients, sediment, and pathogens related to agriculture in small high-priority watersheds in each state. These priority watersheds have been selected by NRCS State Conservationists in consultation with state water quality agencies and NRCS State Technical Committees, where targeted on-farm conservation investments will deliver the greatest water quality benefits. Many of these watersheds serve as sources of drinking water and opportunities may exist to amplify NRCS's efforts with local and/or state funding support.

NWQI Source Water Protection Program: In 2019, NRCS expanded the scope of NWQI to include source water protection for both surface and groundwater public water systems. In the first year, NRCS selected fourteen NWQI Source Water Protection Pilot partnership projects to the "Readiness" phase, under which each project will receive assistance to adapt and expand a source water protection plan to identify critical sources areas needing further land treatment related to agricultural use. Two additional projects were selected for the "Implementation" phase. Agricultural producers within these project areas are eligible to receive cost-share funding for voluntary implementation of conservation practices. NRCS will continue to support projects under the NWQI Source Water Protection Program through FY2023. Drinking water utilities should work with state drinking water programs to identify where NWQI and/or other NRCS conservation program (e.g., Regional Conservation Partnership Program, RCPP) could support source water protection goals.

USDA, "Grassroots" Source Water Protection Program (SWPP): The "Grassroots" Source Water Protection Program is a joint project between the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Services Agency (FSA) and the National Rural Water Association (NRWA). This program's objective is to help prevent pollution of surface and groundwater used as the source of drinking water by rural residents. NRWA technicians work with local stakeholders, including USDA FSA and NRCS, to develop source water assessments and protection plans, which identify voluntary actions that rural landowners and agricultural producers can implement to prevent source water pollution.

United States Geological Survey (USGS): USGS provides scientific information on water resources, biological resources, mapping, and geology to support wise management of our natural resources. USGS will provide water modeling tools and water-quality and land-use data that may be useful in drinking water source assessments.

Find resources from other federal agencies.

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State and Local Government

State and local governments play a critical role in protecting source water.  They are well positioned to help tailor protective actions to local situations. 

States have Source Water Assessment Programs that support communities and utilities assess and protect their drinking water sources.  All State governments completed source water assessments for public water systems in the early 2000s, and some states have requirements to update these assessments regularly. Some states also provide resources to help fund local protection activities, such as wellhead protection programs for groundwater and watershed management programs for surface water. Some states use their Drinking Water State Revolving Fund set-asides to fund these programs. Learn more about funding source water protection with State Revolving Funds.

Local governments can develop zoning requirements to protect source waters, i.e., to ensure that activities using hazardous materials are not located near water supplies. Localities can also protect source water by implementing land use controls through land acquisition or conservation easements.

State and local governments can also provide technical assistance and useful datasets for the source water assessment process, including high resolution land use/ land cover mapping, water quality monitoring data, and information on the location of on-site septic systems or private drinking water wells.

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Drinking Water Utilities

Water utilities should consider developing and implementing their own source water protection programs and promote source water protection to their communities.  Source water protection can help utilities reduce the cost and complexity of their treatment operations. Because they understand the importance of source water quality and quantity, water utilities can be strong partners in source water protection efforts. Some utilities/communities have implemented a water fund in which a small surcharge to water users is dedicated to source water protection.

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Other Partners

Agriculture Community

Source water protection is identified as an explicit goal of agricultural conservation programs in Section 2503 of the 2018 Agriculture Improvement Act (AIA). This flyer provides source water protection information for agricultural partners.Exit

Businesses and Industries

Businesses and industries can take actions to protect drinking water sources by meeting their discharge permit requirements (if it is a permitted facility), and taking voluntary actions to reduce or eliminate contaminants in their wastewater.

Non-Governmental Organizations

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) can serve many roles in source water protection including funding and research to protect source water, coordination among partners, outreach and education, and technical assistance.


Individuals can take action to protect source water by:

  • Getting involved in local source water protection efforts;
  • Reducing the use of pesticides, fertilizers, and other chemicals around the home; and
  • Ensuring that septic systems are property maintained.

Learn about other actions you can take to help protect source water.

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