Source Water Protection Program

Grow Zone sign
Source water protection initiatives in Virginia; photos by Roy Soto

About 7.2 million Virginians rely on waterworks for potable water. Protecting the quality of our drinking water sources by preventing and reducing their contamination is one of the best approaches to ensuring the sustainability of our drinking water supply. Hence, waterworks should consider adding source water protection as part of their multi-barrier approach to provide safe drinking water.

The Virginia Department of Health, Office of Drinking Water (VDH-ODW) recognizes that development and implementation of source water protection measures may be achieved in several ways. Therefore, VDH-ODW continues to improve the Source Water Assessment Program.

One improvement has been to amend Virginia’s Source Water Protection Program definitions. The amended definitions introduce an opportunity for waterworks to obtain “substantial implementation” status credits for the completion of source water protection initiatives by direct or indirect partners. Partners may be from local, state, and federal government programs, citizen groups, and the business community. This updated approach to evaluating program success (“substantial implementation” status credits) emphasizes the benefits of collaboration with outside resources; in most cases waterworks alone have limited options to protect their source(s).

VDH-ODW submits annual progress reports to the Environmental Protection Agency about the protection status of community water systems in Virginia. VDH-ODW or its contractors may inquire about the availability of a protection “strategy in-place” and activities that may support “substantial implementation” status during their interactions with community waterworks. A source water protection program annual survey is typically performed from June to August of each year.

Assistance and Funding Opportunities

  • Source Water Protection Plan Development and Implementation Assistance
  • VDH-ODW Source Water Protection Direct Technical Assistance
  • Wellhead Protection Implementation Projects Grants

Below are the general steps in forming a Source Water Protection Plan. These resources and information could benefit anyone wanting to know more about Source Water Protection Plans, but are generally geared towards larger waterworks. For waterworks serving a population less than 50,000, please contact the ODW source water protection contractor associated with your area

Resources for Waterworks

A source water collaborative is a group of partners, across organizational and jurisdictional boundaries, to protect drinking water at the source. Below are some of the benefits of collaborations the National Source Water Collaborative includes in their toolkit:

  • Increases recognition of need for protecting drinking water sources.
  • Cost-effective approach with broader impact rather than “going it alone.”
  • Aligns diverse efforts for mutual benefit (conservation, regulation, planning, and/or economic development).
  • Brings together those with authority and influence to solve problems.
  • Creates a shared vision and common goals.
  • Fosters new ideas and identifies opportunities.
  • Reveals gaps and promotes integrated solutions.
  • Combines and applies expertise to solve problems.
  • Offers a forum for regular and open communication.
  • Provides cohesive messaging for protection.
  • Uses a voluntary approach while leveraging current state and federal programs more effectively.


The purpose of the Local Advisory Committee is to evaluate the site-specific risks to the source water, develop site specific recommended actions to mitigate the risks, and to ensure that the recommended actions are implemented. The committee involves the community in this process by incorporating community members and local officials into its membership, and by holding meetings with local stakeholders.


Source water assessments were initially developed and completed in 2003 for drinking water sources across the Commonwealth as a result of the 1996 Amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), Section 1453. ODW continues to maintain this program by delineating an assessment area for each drinking water source and creating an inventory of potential sources of contamination using Geographic Information Systems (GIS). These reports and maps are available upon request - please contact ODW's Source Water Programs Team for copies or additional information on the Source Water Assessment Program. These data can prove to be especially useful in the initial data collection process.

ODW's source water assessment information is only the first step in information collection. It is important to recognize that ODW's source water assessment information is a baseline assessment utilizing publicly available information. Local knowledge is critical in verifying and updating this information. Examples of refining and updating source water protection information include:

  • Updating or expanding the delineation area to reflect hydrogeological conditions
  • Updating and verifying the Potential Sources of Contamination though public input or windshield surveys 

For more information on enhancing your source water assessment data, see “How-To Manual: Update and Enhance Your Local Source Water Protection Assessments” from the USEPA.

Once the source water assessment information is completed and verified, waterworks and/or collaboratives can then collect any additional information that could be useful in source water protection.

Below are templates for both groundwater and surface water sources. These are meant to be a guide for large waterworks who are developing a Source Water Protection Plan.

"Emergency Response Planning Template for Public Drinking Water Systems” produced for the Rural Community Assistance Partnership National Network and the Rural Community Assistance Corporation (2005) was used to develop an Emergency Response Plan

Additionally, the Virginia Rural Water Association helps members serving less than 10,000 persons to develop and implement Source Water Protection Plans. For more information, click here.

Other planning toos are provided here: USDA Tools for Source Water Protection (AWWA),  EPA’s Water Resilience Resources

The initial step should be to discuss and assign tasks to their respective responsible parties. Timelines to implement the source water protection strategies should also be determined.  Community members can determine the best process for completing activities within the projected time periods.

Numerous funding opportunities are available to aid communities in the implementation of source water protection initiatives.  The following is a table of funding sources currently available to support source water protection in Virginia:

Wellhead Protection Implementation Projects Grants – Virginia Department of Health – Office of Drinking Water

Drinking Water State Revolving Fund – Virginia Department of Health – Office of Drinking Water

  • Funding type: Low interest loan with possible loan forgiveness
  • Description: This program provides planning funding, which could be used to analyze solutions to source water measures or evaluate potential new sources.  This program also provides low interest loans with possible principal forgiveness for waterworks construction projects including new wells and intake modifications, and low interest loans for waterworks to acquire land or conservation easements and to establish local voluntary incentive-based source water protection measures.  Funding is prioritized for small, financially stressed, community waterworks.
  • Link

Nonpoint Source Management Implementation Grant Program – Virginia Department of Environmental Quality

The Land and Water Conservation Fund State and Local Assistance Program – Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation

  • Funding type: Cost-share
  • Description: This program supports the acquisition and/or development of public outdoor recreation areas.  This may aid utilities in purchasing land in the SWPA when the source water protection goals do not conflict with the recreational use of the land.  It should be noted that all LWCF assisted areas must be maintained and opened, in perpetuity, as public outdoor recreation areas.
  • Link

Stormwater Local Assistance Fund – Virginia Department of Environmental Quality

Virginia Wastewater Revolving Loan Fund – Virginia Department of Environmental Quality

Virginia Clean Water Revolving Loan Fund – Virginia Department of Environmental Quality

Virginia Land Conservation Foundation – Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation

  • Funding type: Grant
  • Description: Grants are awarded to help fund the purchase of permanent conservation easements, open spaces and parklands, lands of historic or cultural significance, farmlands and forests, and natural areas.  This program may allow public waterworks to permanently protect land in the SWPA at little cost to the waterworks.
  • Link

Other Virginia Department of Forestry funding programs 

  • Description: VDF administers a number of programs aimed at promoting healthy forests and wildlife habitat that may help waterworks to limit erosion on land that they control within the SWPA.  Additionally, VDF administers programs aimed at supporting agricultural best management practices.  Waterworks can use these programs to promote Best Management Practices within their SWPA.
  • Link

Healthy Watersheds Consortium Grant – U.S. Endowment for Forestry & Communities, Inc.

  • Funding type: Grant
  • Description: This program provides grants to accelerate strategic protection of healthy, freshwater ecosystems and their watersheds. The primary focus for applicants should be protection and stewardship of the landscape that comprises the watershed, rather than restoration of degraded habitats or projects with a strictly water quality improvement outcome.
  • Link

Urban Waters Small Grants Program – US Environmental Protection Agency

  • Funding type: Grant
  • Description: This program provides small grants to restore their urban waters in ways that also benefit community and economic revitalization.  In general, projects should address local water quality issues related to urban runoff pollution, provide additional community benefits, actively engage underserved communities; and foster partnership
  • Link

Regional Conservation Partnership Program – U.S. Department of Agriculture

  • Funding type: cost share
  • Description: This program provides funding to locally driven, public-private partnerships that improve the nation’s water quality, combat drought, enhance soil health, support wildlife habitat and protect agricultural viability.  The program connects partners with producers and private landowners to design and implement voluntary conservation solutions that benefit natural resources, agriculture, and the economy. Applicants must match or exceed the federal award with private or local funds.
  • Link

The Local Advisory Committee should review the plan every three years and determine if there is a need for plan updates. Keeping your plan current has several advantages. For example, updating the potential sources of contamination inventory or new mapping will ensure that the plan continues to identify any risks to the watershed and the source water. These reviews can also make the plan more robust by exploring new strategies that reflect new Best Management Practices or pursuing additional partnerships.