Guidelines for Developing a Source Water Protection Plan

Water Protection Program fact sheet
Division of Environmental Quality Director: Ed Galbraith

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources (Department) is committed to helping public water systems in the state protect their drinking water sources. This fact sheet provides guidance and instructions on how to develop a local, voluntary source water protection plan that satisfies the Department’s minimum requirements for an effective source water or wellhead protection plan. Source water protection plans that meet these requirements are eligible for endorsement by the Department.


The Missouri Drinking Water Source Water Assessment Plan, approved by the United States Environmental Protection Agency in 2000, describes Missouri’s plan for satisfying requirements of the 1996 amendments to the federal Safe Drinking Water Act to develop and implement a statewide source water assessment and protection program (§1453 and §1428(b)). The plan incorporates all aspects of the Missouri Wellhead Protection Program (approved by the United States Environmental Protection Agency in 1994). 

The ultimate goal of this program is to assist community public water systems and the customers they serve protect local and regional sources of public drinking water through voluntary, community-based efforts. While this program focuses on community systems, the protective strategies and concepts summarized in this document apply to all public water systems with a raw water source.

The Missouri Source Water Protection Program

The Missouri Source Water Protection Program provides technical guidance and other assistance to community public water systems to develop and implement local, voluntary source water protection programs to protect groundwater aquifers (wellhead protection) and surface water sources from contamination. 

Public water systems that develop local source water protection plans are encouraged to submit their plans to the Department for review and endorsement. Although formal participation with Missouri’s Source Water Protection Program is voluntary, endorsed public water systems may receive priority point consideration for other financial assistance programs available through the Department or other state and federal agencies. The Department renews endorsement of local protection plans following submission of updated information on a five-year endorsement cycle. 

The Four Essential Components of a Source Water Protection Plan

Missouri’s water resources are diverse. The quality of a specific raw water source depends on a variety of factors, including natural environmental conditions, land use activities, climatological conditions, and others. While specific protection strategies may vary significantly from one source to the next, the process for developing an effective, local protection plan that meets the Department’s minimum requirements includes four main elements: 1. A planning team or steering committee. 2. a source water assessment. 3. A management and implementation plan. 4. A viable, current contingency plan to provide water in the event of an emergency or operational failure.

  1. Planning Team or Steering Committee
    The first step in developing a local source water protection program is to establish a local group to plan, direct, and oversee implementation of the program. Most planning teams consist of water utility staff, community or regional planners, private citizens, and other individuals that may represent industrial, commercial, or other interests important to the community. To foster participation and support from the greater community, water systems are encouraged to form a planning team that is inclusive, diverse, and representative of the various stakeholders within the community. 

    The planning team is responsible for establishing the scope and vision of the protection plan and for detailing the strategy to achieve identified goals and objectives for implementing the program. Protection planning documents submitted to the Department for review and endorsement must include a list of the planning team members, a primary point of contact for administration of the program, and a primary point of contact for general correspondence with the public.
  2. Source Water Assessments
    Source water assessments are the foundation upon which a protection program is established. The Department produces source water assessments for all public water systems in the state, and these assessments are available to the public online through the Missouri Source Water Protection and Assessment Portal. The Department recommends planning teams use the state-provided assessment reports in their initial plan, but planners may use locally developed or outsourced assessments, also. A source water assessment includes a delineation of the source water protection area (the area to manage and protect), a survey of potential contaminant sources that might influence the quality of the source, and a broad assessment of risk posed to the source. 
    • Delineation of a Source Water Protection Area
      A source water protection area is the geographic area around the raw water source to be managed through the protection plan. These areas commonly include the source, itself, and regions adjacent to the source that have sites, facilities, or land use activities that have potential to influence the source’s water quality (or quantity). To achieve the necessary level of protection, one or more delineation methods may be used. Delineation methods can range from a fixed radius to an in-depth hydrologic model. 

      The state-provided assessment reports use a combination of methods to delineate source water protection areas. For groundwater sources, the Department uses two delineation methods. The first is an arbitrary fixed radius method. The Department recommends an arbitrary fixed radius be used as an initial wellhead protection area when little or no information is known about the well or aquifer. The second method is the calculated fixed radius method. This method uses a simplified hydrologic model to estimate the rate of groundwater flow towards the well over a twenty-year period. Surface water protection area delineations are watershed based and include an arbitrary five-mile upstream buffer for streams.
    • Potential Contaminant Inventory
      The fundamental purpose of a potential contaminant inventory is to identify locations of sites, operations, and land use activities that host, manufacture, store, or transport substances that may contaminate a drinking water source if not managed properly. Sites with known or suspected contamination within the protection area should also be included in the inventory. A potential contaminant inventory may include information obtained from field surveys, database reviews, and aerial imagery (photographs, remote sensing, land use and cover data, and others). Protection planners are encouraged to use the potential contaminant inventories available through the state-provided assessment reports, which include information obtained by the Department, the United States Environmental Protection Agency, and others. The Department recommends known or suspected contaminant sources within the protection area be field verified by local protection planners.  
    • Risk Assessment
      The third component of a source water assessment is a risk analysis. What risk does a given site or land use realistically pose to a given water source? If there are 10 sites listed in an inventory, which present the most serious risk? Although answering questions such as these may not be simple and may require a degree of subjectivity, engaging in this process is a critical step towards developing a protection strategy that is effective, realistic, and efficient. Recognizing threats to a public water source is a key planning objective and a critical step in developing an effective protection plan. With this information, planning teams are in position to prioritize risks and to consider available options to address those risks. 
  3. Management and Implementation Plan
    A thorough management plan, based on the information in the assessment and the conditions within the community, is the template that guides the goals, objectives, and vision of the planning team to increase protection of the source. When developing a management plan, the planning team should strive to capture every relevant detail in the process – available resources, stakeholder involvement and contributions, degrees and severity of risks, areas of opportunity, and, critically, a timeline for implementing and updating the plan. A thorough management plan contains broad goals and specific objectives, action items, and timelines that are rigid enough to become routine, yet flexible enough to adapt to changes with staff, administrative oversight, land use activities near the source, or with other broad changes affecting the greater community or water source. 
  4. Contingency Plan
    Even under ideal circumstances, water systems encounter operational challenges. Whether a minor main break or a major challenge such as a contamination incident at the source, all water systems should have an emergency back-up plan to serve the community in a worst-case scenario. Within the context of source water protection planning, a contingency plan does not need to encompass the amount of detail captured within an emergency operations or response plan (EOP or ERP). A contingency plan is a small, but important part of the latter. It is the part that most directly and immediately impacts the greater community following a water outage. In the simplest terms, a contingency plan describes how the water utility will respond to an inability to provide potable water and how it will provide alternate water supplies if necessary. This plan may include packaged water providers, water-hauling companies, interconnections with neighboring systems, or even designated water distribution locations within the area. Regardless of the specific details of the plan, communicating to the public what to expect during an outage and providing direction on how to respond accordingly bolsters public confidence and helps minimize panic or confusion while the utility works to correct the problem. 

Implementing a Local, Voluntary Source Water Protection Plan and Partnering with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources

Compiling and drafting a local source water protection planning document is an essential step in initiating an effective, local protection program. The next, equally important step is to begin implementation of the goals and action items described within the plan. Planning teams are encouraged to employ public outreach and communications when initiating their local plans to raise awareness among stakeholders and to foster momentum for moving implementation of the plan forward. Additionally, planning teams are strongly encouraged to adhere to milestones and scheduled activities included within their plan to gage the plan’s effectiveness and to identify opportunities to improve or tailor elements of the plan as needed.

If you have questions about the Missouri Source Water Protection Program or about developing a source water protection plan, you may contact the Source Water Protection and Assessment Coordinator at 573-526-0269 or by email. Submit source water protection plans or updates to existing plans to the attention of the Source Water Protection and Assessment Coordinator, Missouri Department of Natural Resources, Water Protection Program, Public Drinking Water Branch, PO Box 176, Jefferson City, MO, 65102-0176. 

Additional Resources

Missouri Rural Water Association (MRWA)
American Water Works Association (AWWA)
Association of State Drinking Water Administrators (ASDWA)
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
The Source Water Collaborative (SWC)
Natural Resource Conservation Service – U.S. Department of Agriculture (NRCS-USDA)