In March 2010, CBI assisted the Water Research Foundation (WRF) in developing a roadmap for source water protection for U.S. drinking water utilities. The purpose of the roadmap for source water protection is to develop a national strategy that will establish common, agreed-upon goals and objectives for source water protection, allow for the sharing of expertise, and help identify knowledge gaps. WRF’s roadmap is governed by the vision that source water protection is essential and by 2025 every public community water supply will be protected by an active source water protection program. This work is part of CBI’s on-going involvement in drinking and wastewater cases, from local water conflicts to international sustainable water use standards.

Drinking water comes from a great variety of natural sources, including ground water, rivers, and springs. Protecting these sources is crucial for providing a reliable supply of high-quality drinking water into the future.

Despite the importance of source water protection and the intricacy of its processes, no specific federal mandate exists for the development or implementation of source water pro­tection programs. Some utilities have implemented highly successful protection programs, while many others have done little or nothing in this area.

During an intensive two-day workshop convened by WRF in Boulder, Colorado and facilitated by CBI, a team of experi­enced water professionals gathered, reviewed, and discussed a wide range of information on source water protection ef­forts. During the workshop, four themes emerged: raising awareness for prevention, enhancing coordination among stakeholders, providing utilities with necessary support, and increasing public recognition for effective programs.

Working within these themes, the participants, identified sev­eral major obstacles to source water protection including the lack of a mechanism for sharing expertise between different utilities, and the difficulty many personnel have understand­ing the combined effects of numerous contaminants on source water quality. Another challenge involves ascribing a monetary value to the benefits of source water protection. Most utility managers need to be convinced that source water protection is worth the effort and expenditures before they will authorize protection activities. However, there is a general lack of infor­mation on the costs and benefits of source water protection, and since source water protection is a preventative measure, it does not answer a particular crisis that can be easily monetized.

Over the two-days, specific solutions emerged to address each issue, including:

  • Developing descriptions of the potential costs of not un­dertaking source water protection
  • Recognizing and educating utilities managers on the diffi­culty of quantifying the monetary benefits of source water protection
  • Performing knowledge gap analyses for individual water utilities and stakeholder groups
  • Working with local schools on educational programs
  • Developing a system for educating key decision-makers on the importance and benefits of source water protection
  • Taking a more proactive approach with the media
  • Effectively leveraging the Clean Water Act to improve protection of water sources
  • Developing a plan by 2012 to recognize and identify components of a voluntary program

Written in the form of clear, precise recommendations for ac­tion, the Water Research Foundation’s roadmap serves as a practical, focused strategy to promote source water protection for U.S. drinking water utilities.