Source Water Protection (SWP)

What is Source Water?

Source water refers to sources of water (such as rivers, streams, lakes, reservoirs, springs, and groundwater) that provide water to public drinking water supplies and private wells.  

What is Groundwater?

Groundwater is the water found underground in the cracks and spaces in soil, sand and rock. Rain, melting snow or surface water becomes groundwater by seeping into the ground and filling these spaces. It is stored in and moves slowly through geologic formations of soil, sand, and rocks called aquifers. In Pike County, our aquifers mainly consist of gravel or shale. Groundwater is a source of recharge for our streams, lakes, rivers, and wetlands. For more information about the water cycle and groundwater’s role in it, watch this water cycle video.

Why Protect Source Water?

Protecting source water can reduce health risks by preventing exposures to contaminated water. Drinking water utilities that meet the definition of a public water system are responsible for meeting the requirements of federal and state drinking water programs under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). Protecting source water from contamination helps reduce treatment costs and may avoid or defer the need for complex treatment. There are many additional benefits associated with source water protection, such as protecting water quality for wildlife and recreational use and protecting the availability and quantity of water supplies. 

How do our Wells and Springs become Polluted? 

Many people think our drinking water is protected from pollution, especially since we rely on groundwater. However, wells become polluted when substances that are harmful to human health get into our groundwater. Water from these wells can be dangerous to drink if the level of pollution rises above health standards. 

What Are Some Examples of Source Water Protection? 

Source water protection includes a wide variety of actions and activities aimed at safeguarding, maintaining, or improving the quality and/or quantity of sources of drinking water and their contributing areas.  These activities may depend on the type of source being protected (e.g., groundwater, reservoir, or river). 

Some examples of source water protection are: 

  • Riparian zone restoration to reduce runoff pollution; 
  • Stream bank stabilization to reduce sedimentation; 
  • Land protection/easements;
  • Best management practices for agricultural and forestry activities or stormwater control;
  • Local ordinances to limit certain activities in source water or wellhead protection areas; 
  • Educating local industry, businesses, and citizens on pollution prevention and source water protection.
  • Developing emergency response plans

What can we do to help? 

  • Inspect and pump your septic system frequently. A typical septic system should be pumped every 3-5 years. 
  • Recycle used motor oil. 
  • Dispose of hazardous waste properly. Don’t dump chemicals down drains or on the ground. 
  • Limit the amount of fertilizers and pesticides used in your yard. Growing native plants requires less watering and no chemicals. 
  • Minimize the use of chemicals around your house. Buy only what you need and always use according to directions. 
  • Pick up after your pet when out for walks. 
  • Conserve water at home and at work. 
  • Test underground fuel oil tanks for leaks. If possible, place them above ground. 
  • Find ways to recycle and properly dispose of hazardous waste. Visit for additional resources.
  • For more ways to protect water quality at home, click here.

Click the links below for more information on Source Water Protection


History of Drinking Water Protection

Protecting drinking water is a top priority for the Environmental Protection Agency and the PA Department of Environmental Protection. On the federal level, protective drinking water standards have been established for more than 90 contaminants, including drinking water regulations issued since the 1996 amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act that strengthen public health protection.  In Pennsylvania, the Bureau of Safe Drinking Water is charged with managing the federally delegated drinking water program and implements both the federal and state Safe Drinking Water Act and associated regulations.  

These regulations focus on the protecting the quality of drinking water, whether from above ground or underground sources.  


Private Well Owners

Millions of rural residents throughout Pennsylvania use a private water well, spring or cistern for their drinking water. There are no statewide regulations on these household water supplies so their management is the voluntary responsibility of the homeowner. Management of these water supplies, including proper design, location, construction, testing and treatment, can be challenging.  

Penn State Extension has created dozens of short articles, videos, and courses to assist with some of the most common management issues.

Private Well Water Testing available through Penn State.

Septic System Maintenance:

The best designed and properly installed onlot sewage disposal system will still malfunction if the homeowner does not properly operate and maintain the system. In addition to requiring costly repairs, malfunctioning systems can contaminate surface and groundwaters, cause various health problems, and spread disease as well as create unsightly messes and foul odors when raw sewage surfaces or backs up into the home. 

Homeowner’s Checklist for a Watershed Friendly Home 

Kids Drinking Water Activity 



Public Drinking Water Well Operators

Certified operators are a critical part of providing an adequate and safe supply of water. Operators are typically responsible for a variety of tasks centered around operating and maintaining a system or plant. They typically work in a selection of capacities: water treatment, distribution, water collection, or wastewater.  

The Partnership for Safe Water (PSW) is a voluntary effort between six drinking water organization and more than 250 water utilities throughout the United States. The PSW’s mission is to improve the quality of water delivered to customers by optimizing water system operations. The PSW offers self-assessment and optimization programs so that operators, managers, and administrators have the tools to improve performance above and beyond even proposed regulatory levels. 


Pocono Source Water Protection Collaborative

Formed in 2013 under a Water Resources Education Network from the League of Women Voters, the Pocono Source Water Protection Collaborative (PSWPC) was formed to maintain the excellent drinking water quality of Northeast Pennsylvania. The Pike County Conservation District works with the Collaborative, an association of private and community associations, agency representatives, water operators and community drinking water system owners, on plans to help keep our drinking PA water free from pollutants and assure a healthy water source for our entire region. 

One focus of the group is supporting community water systems in their drinking water protection efforts, such as developing a source water protection plan. Source water protection plans involve discovering the water supply’s drinking water sources and potential sources of contamination and developing emergency plans in the event of a spill or accident that may threaten those sources.  PSWPC hopes to extend the participation of community water suppliers by highlighting the benefits and opportunities of working together.  

Other group goals include: 

  • Sharing ideas and lessons learned within the collaboration  
  • Establishing a streamlined approach for spill notification to system operators 
  • Source Water protection education  
  • Promote Source Water Protection Plan development  

EPA Source Water Protection 

Source Water Collaborative