What is wellhead protection and why is it important?
Wellhead protection is one way a community can protect its current and future drinking water supply. Since the majority of public drinking water supply systems in Nevada rely upon ground water, preventive action such as wellhead protection is important because remediation of contaminated ground water is expensive and, in some cases, it may be impossible to return the water to drinking water quality.
Wellhead protection is appropriate for communities of any size. Some of the first communities in Nevada to begin wellhead protection programs include Fernley, Carson City, and Lovelock.
How is Nevada's Wellhead Protection Program set up?
In Nevada, wellhead protection programs (WHPPs) are developed and managed at the local level (town or city). The State may provide guidance and technical assistance with the various program elements.
Elements of a WHPP include:
- Formation of a WHPP team;
- Delineation of wellhead protection areas;
- Inventory of potential contaminant sources within wellhead protection areas;
- Selection and implementation of management strategies;
- New well planning;
- Contingency plan development; and
- Public participation.
In the initial stages of a wellhead protection program, a local WHPP team is formed. The members may include representatives of any group that may be affected by, or interested in, wellhead protection activities. Duties should be specified for each member of the WHPP team. Although public participation is listed as the last element, it should be integrated into all the other elements of a wellhead protection program.
The State encourages communities to submit their WHPPs to the State. The State will endorse WHPPs that provide adequate protection to the community drinking water supply. Criteria for State endorsement are outlined in the U.S. EPA-approved Nevada Wellhead Protection Program. State endorsed plans are eligible for additional financial assistance.
What is a wellhead protection area?
The goal of wellhead protection is to protect the water flowing to the well. The land surface area in which activities and land uses must be managed in order to protect the underlying ground water is called a wellhead protection area (WHPA). The WHPA is represented on the land surface generally as a circular or elliptical shape around the well. In some cases, it also may be necessary to manage the activities in a recharge zone located some distance from the well.
WHPAs should be delineated for each public drinking water supply well in the community using an appropriate method, as dictated by financial constraints, hydrologic conditions, and data availability. WHPA delineations must be consistent with protection goals and possible management strategies. After WHPAs are delineated, the wells and their WHPAs are drawn on maps.
What types of things could contaminate ground water?
An inventory must be conducted of all existing and potential contaminant sources within the WHPAs. Potential contaminant sources are any land use or activity that might release toxic substances onto the ground surface or into the soil. These substances could potentially travel down through the soil to the water table, contaminating the ground water. Some examples of potential contaminant sources are:
- Leaking underground storage tanks;
- Septic systems;
- Fertilizers and pesticides;
- Poorly constructed or improperly abandoned wells; and
- Household hazardous waste.
Historic and future land uses and activities should be inventoried in addition to current land uses and activities. The locations of all potential contaminant sources identified are also placed on a map.
How can wellhead protection areas be managed to prevent contamination?
Maps of the WHPAs and potential contaminant sources are then overlain with zoning and land use maps. Management strategies selected for implementation should be feasible options that adequately protect the drinking water from specific potential contaminants within the WHPA. Management strategies may be either regulatory or non-regulatory in nature.
Some examples of regulatory management options are:
- Zoning ordinances;
- Source or use prohibition;
- Design or operating standards; and
- Site plan reviews.
Some examples of non-regulatory management options include:
- Ground water monitoring;
- Land acquisition;
- Public education; and
- Household hazardous waste collection.
Even though preventive actions are taken, accidents and emergencies may occur. If contingency plans are in place, the risk to ground water as a result of accidents or emergencies can be minimized. In addition, WHPAs should be delineated and potential contaminant source inventories should be conducted for all possible future well sites. Considering this information, new well sites can then be chosen so that the risk of contamination is minimized.
How can I get more information?
If you would like to obtain more information about wellhead protection, contact the Bureau of Water Pollution Control at the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection (775) 687-4670
Who do I contact to get my private well tested?
Wet Labs for legal purposes: 775-355-0202
Nevada State Health Lab for personal purposes: 775-688-1335 ext.6