The Wellhead Protection Program
in Pennsylvania:

An Overview (January 2002)

Almost half of Pennsylvania’s residents rely on ground water as a source of drinking water. Ground water used as a public water supply is less expensive to use than surface water due to land acquisition costs and various treatment requirements for surface-water supplies. However, if ground-water contamination occurs, it is very costly to employ remedial activities and to provide the necessary treatment to comply with drinking water standards. Also, once ground water is polluted, it remains contaminated for a long period of time. Even if ground-water remediation is undertaken, it is a long and difficult process to attempt to restore water quality.

Section 1428 of the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) requires States to submit plans to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that describe how they will protect ground-water sources used by public water systems from contamination. The Wellhead Protection Program (WHPP) is a proactive effort designed to apply proper management techniques and various preventive measures to protect ground-water supplies thereby ensuring public health and preventing the need for expensive treatment of wells to comply with drinking water standards. The underlying principle of the program is that it is much less expensive to protect ground water than it is to try to restore it once it becomes contaminated. Pennsylvania’s WHPP was approved by EPA in March 1999 and it is the cornerstone of the Source Water Assessment Program which is also required under the SDWA. The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is the primacy agency for the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Source Protection Section in the Bureau of Watershed Management is responsible for administering the WHPP and other drinking water source protection efforts in Pennsylvania.

The responsibilities for wellhead protection (WHP) in Pennsylvania are shared among many stakeholders. Public water suppliers are responsible for assuring the continuous supply of safe and potable water to the consumer. The authority to regulate land use is primarily seated in the local governments whereas the Commonwealth has primary responsibility in regulating public water supplies and most discharges of potential contaminants. Other interested parties may include facility operators, landowners, local agencies and the public. Recognizing the need to balance the interests of all stakeholders, the WHPP emphasizes technical, financial and educational assistance to facilitate the development of voluntary local WHP programs. Pennsylvania’s Safe Drinking Water Regulations (25 Pa. Code § 109) incorporate aspects of wellhead protection including new community water system well permitting requirements, a three-tiered approach for wellhead protection areas and minimum elements for DEP approval of voluntary local WHP programs. Strategies for the delineation of wellhead protection areas have been developed based on hydrogeologic investigations conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey for DEP. Funding for local WHP program development is available through DEP’s Source Water Protection Grant Program. Although WHP is voluntary at the local level, a growing number of municipalities and water systems across the state are already implementing local WHP programs in order to protect public health and safety by ensuring the quality of their drinking water sources. In addition to the public health and economic benefits associated with preventing costly contamination of ground-water sources, an effective local WHP program may help to secure a monitoring waiver for certain synthetic organic chemicals, thereby reducing analytical costs to a water system. Wellhead protection also promotes sound land-use planning and complements the principles of pollution prevention.

For information on the WHPP, contact the appropriate regional DEP office (see next page) or the Source Protection Section at 717-787-5259.

A comprehensive local WHP program consists of several discrete and vital components:

I. Designation of Responsibilities/Formation of Steering Committee

II. Public Participation

III. Wellhead Protection Area (WHPA) Delineation (Click here to view an example)

IV. Identification of Contaminant Sources (Click here to see a table of common sources of ground-water contamination)

V. Development of WHPA Management Approaches

VI. Contingency Planning

VII. New Water Supply Source Protection

Regional Offices:

Southeast Region (Conshohocken) 610-832-6059
Counties: Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, Philadelphia.
Northcentral Region (Williamsport) 570-327-3675
Counties: Bradford, Cameron, Centre, Clearfield, Clinton, Columbia, Lycoming, Montour, Northumberland, Potter, Snyder, Sullivan, Tioga, Union.
Northeast Region (Wilkes-Barre) 570-826-2511
Counties: Carbon, Lackawanna, Lehigh, Luzerne, Monroe, Northampton, Pike, Schuylkill, Susquehanna, Wayne, Wyoming.
Southwest Region (Pittsburgh) 412-442-4217
Counties: Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Cambria, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Somerset, Washington, Westmoreland.
Southcentral Region (Harrisburg) 717-705-4708
Counties: Adams, Bedford, Berks, Blair, Cumberland, Dauphin, Franklin, Fulton, Huntingdon, Juniata, Lancaster, Lebanon, Mifflin, Perry, York.
Northwest Region (Meadville) 814-332-6899
Counties: Butler, Clarion, Crawford, Elk, Erie, Forest, Jefferson, Lawrence, McKean, Mercer, Venango, Warren.

This fact sheet and related environmental information are available electronically via Internet. Access the DEP Web Site at (directLINK "Source Water").

Bureau of Watershed Management