The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA) Source Water Assessment and Protection Program exceeds federal planning requirements to help communities create dedicated protection plans.
One unique feature of OEPA’s program is that it covers both groundwater and surface water, whereas other state agencies in the Great Lakes basin silo planning efforts for these two drinking water sources. The program builds off federal Safe Drinking Water Act requirements for all states to have a wellhead protection program, and for all public water supplies to assess risks to sources of drinking water. Under these laws there is no requirement for individual public water supplies to take full advantage of state programs, or to take concrete steps to mitigate the risks identified by the assessments. Ohio EPA has rules in place that require some community water systems develop a protection plan with two years of receiving approval to use a well. In addition, Ohio EPA has asset management rules that require systems to review their assessments and protection plans annually. Source water protection is also a key component of the state’s harmful algal bloom and surface water treatment rules. Local ordinances are an option a municipality can use and one of Ohio’s cities within the Great Lakes basin has passed a local ordinance requiring source water protection. Most communities have opted for education and coordination between government agencies as an effective way mitigate the identified risks. To date, hundreds of public water supplies serving millions of people have chosen to work with OEPA to develop local source water protection plans on a voluntary basis.
The process for municipal public water supplies to develop their source water protection plans is divided into two phases. Phase I is led by OEPA and focuses on assessing potential risks to sources of drinking water. Phase II is the development and implementation of a local drinking water source protection plan. Phase II work is led by the public water system owner/operator, with assistance from groups including local emergency responders, educators and watershed groups, business owners and the public.
OEPA’s program also accommodates source water protection planning for non-municipal public water systems (e.g. those that serve mobile home parks, nursing homes, schools, factories and small businesses). Using the risks identified in the federally-required assessment report (identical to Phase I described above for municipal public supplies), OEPA creates a checklist of protection strategies that is tailored to the specific risks identified in the system's protection area. The owner/operator is asked to check off strategies that they intend to implement or are already implementing and return the checklist to OEPA. This checklist then becomes the system's protection plan. If non-municipal systems want to develop a more comprehensive protection plan, they may also use the guidance materials developed for public systems.
In addition to the streamlined design that combines groundwater and surface water protection planning efforts in the same shop, OEPA provides significant guidance and resources for communities interested in taking proactive steps to protect their sources of drinking water. Their Division of Environmental and Financial Assistance provides administrative and financial assistance including low-interest loans to communities in Ohio for source water protection planning efforts. The OEPA website also links to a U.S. EPA list of funding sources for source water protection, including a one-stop shop for federal funding.