Watershed Protection

Potomac River Basin Drinking Water Source Protection Partnership

Maintaining the health and functioning of the land and water resources in the Potomac watershed is essential to source water protection. Approaches to doing this can include land conservation, implementation of land management practices that protect water quality, and regulations that help protect the resources.

Regulations to Protect Water Quality

Clean Water Act (CWA): water quality standards and stormwater permits
National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System
Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA)
Integration of the CWA and SDWA

Land Protection

Management Practices

Effective Source Water Protection utilizes practices that can eliminate, reduce, or control contaminant levels. The list below is not comprehensive, but represents some of the available options.

On agricultural lands:

  • Protect vegetated buffers along streams or provide other means for slowing and filtering stormwater flows.
  • Install fencing that prohibits livestock access to streams.
  • Use proper pasture management techniques on areas near streams. When placing calf hutches be aware of the proximity to streams. Young dairy cattle often shed millions of Cryptosporidium oocysts that can be a serious concern for drinking water protection.
  • Implement other agricultural practices that keep soil, manure, fertilizers, pesticides and other agricultural contaminants from entering streams or groundwater, such as following nutrient management plans, properly applying or disposing of manure, planting cover crops, using no-till and contour farming, and properly timing and efficiently using chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides.

On urban, suburban, and rural lands:

  • Encourage land use planning and zoning approaches that protect water quality, such as open space and overlay districts.
  • Implement Environmental Site Design practices, such as rain gardens, green infrastructure, low impact development, and environmentally friendly landscaping that
    • maximize stormwater retention and allow the slow infiltration of water;
    • reduce the amount of impervious surface;
    • reduce runoff from high-pollution areas, such as parking lots, gas stations, airports, industrial facilities, and sites with above-ground storage tanks;
    • control erosion, runoff, and sedimentation, especially during construction; and
    • incorporate stormwater wetlands and bio-retention basins to provide treatment.
  • Maintain wastewater treatment plants and associated collection systems (sewerage) to minimize the leaking or overflow of contaminants from conveyance systems, treatment plants, or broken pipes.
  • Promote community wastewater treatment rather than individual septic systems, particularly in areas where groundwater resources are vulnerable or aging systems are failing.
  • Develop criteria for siting and maintaining septic systems that protect surface water supplies.
  • Limit use of lawn fertilizers and pesticides and avoid application near source water areas, streams, and impervious surfaces. Determine amount of fertilizer needed for soil so appropriate amount is applied and excess does not run off.
  • Properly dispose of
    • household chemicals, including lawn care and vehicle cleaning chemicals;
    • pet waste; and
    • unused or expired chemicals and pharmaceuticals.
  • Encourage use of industry-specific best management practices for managing chemicals, waste, and discharges.
  • Require the use of best management practices for the containment of petroleum products, including oil, gas, and home heating fuels.

On roads and at airports:

  • Select road salt and deicing products that are designed to have a limited impact on water quality (lower toxicity levels and biodegradable).
  • Adjust the way these materials are applied to roadways taking into consideration, when possible, roads with direct discharges into streams or those in close proximity to a drinking water source.
  • Use the proper amounts of the chemicals when needed and mechanically remove snow when possible.
  • Use a Road Weather Information System that provides real-time information on road conditions to better inform treatment decisions.
  • Train employees and maintain equipment to ensure best practices are implemented.
  • Implement a street sweeping or cleaning program.
  • Construct and maintain vegetated stormwater controls to collect, detain, treat, and promote infiltration of runoff.

Near water supply intakes and reservoirs:

  • Set development setbacks to provide a natural buffer from direct sources of contamination.
  • Preserve and protect trees and vegetated buffers along the shoreline.
  • Prohibit fuel and chemical storage.
  • Prohibit septic tank installation.
  • Implement management practices to prevent the introduction of foreign and invasive species.
  • Discourage or prohibit body-contact recreation.
  • Limit aquatic propulsion to sails, paddles, or electric trolling motors (no gasoline motors).
  • Conduct contingency planning to respond to natural disasters, hazardous spills, and other emergencies.

There are many resources available with additional information on specific source water protection practices: