Initiating Wellhead Protection in Your Community

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Local wellhead protection efforts can be initiated by anyone served by the public water system they seek to protect. You do not have to be an owner of a public water system to initiate wellhead protection. Any individual in a local community who wishes to initiate the process, however, should seek the support and involvement of the entities who have local jurisdictional authorities or the "Responsible Management Authorities". In Oregon, the term "Responsible Management Authority" (RMA) refers to any Public Water System or entity with rule- and ordinance-making authority to manage activities within a wellhead protection area. RMAs can be public or private entitities, including a Public Water System, although they do not generally have jurisdictional authorities.

An RMA can be any of the following:

Although the Department of Environmental Quality and the Oregon Health Division will provide information and assistance to any individual who requests help with initiating wellhead protection, it will be extremely difficult to successfully develop and implement the plan without the involvement of the RMAs with primary jurisdictional authorities throughout the process. In Step 8 (Section 3.8) of this guidance manual, there are suggestions for what the local community or individual(s) can do to overcome any lack of jurisdictional commitment by one or more RMAs for implementing the plan.

In order to assist in the effort to initiate a Wellhead Protection Plan, it is suggested that the individual or RMA(s) set up a workshop or meeting to discuss wellhead protection. This should be an informational meeting open to the public that includes as many local officials and RMA representatives as possible. The Department of Environmental Quality and/or the Oregon Health Division can provide support for presenting information on the basics of groundwater and wellhead protection. The RMA can use the opportunity to present information to the public about the particular water system that provides their drinking water. The overall purpose of the meeting is to increase public awareness of the drinking water supply, groundwater vulnerability to contamination, and benefits and methodology of developing a wellhead protection plan for the local community. The workshop or meeting can be held at a local library, school, grange, or donated meeting space.

Optional Pre-Plan Assessment:

A preliminary assessment of potential sources can be performed if the individual or RMA initiating a wellhead protection plan believes this may generate more interest and/or support by the local community. This "Pre-Plan Assessment" is optional. The purpose of the Pre-Plan Assessment is primarily to provide an educational tool for the public and local officials. In assessing the potential contaminant sources in the vicinity of their well(s) or spring(s), it also serves as an indicator of the level of formal delineation appropriate for the community should they choose to proceed with developing a wellhead protection plan.

It is not uncommon for individuals interested in developing wellhead protection plans in their communities to encounter attitudes such as "we don't have a problem here" or "it won't happen to us" in the general public. Members of a community are so accustomed to seeing the various businesses, industry and other activities around their neighborhoods that they do not associate any risk to groundwater from that activity.

In many communities, the utility and need for wellhead protection is brought into sharper focus as a result of having some of the potential contaminant sources displayed on a map of the area. It is particularly effective if this map is presented in association with basic education regarding the nature of groundwater and how it can become contaminated.

For purposes of both the Pre-Plan Assessment survey and final display, the community should use as detailed a map as possible. These are generally available from your local jurisdiction, planning office, Chamber of Commerce, etc. The more detailed maps will show streets and features that will be familiar to local residents. If aerial photographs are readily available, they are particularly useful because individuals can easily pick out businesses, the well(s), their own houses, etc.

The Pre-Plan Assessment consists of performing an informal (i.e., windshield or drive-by) survey of activities in an area around the well. The area to be surveyed is a circle with a radius based solely on the population served by the well(s) or spring(s). The specific area to be surveyed in the Pre-Plan Assessment can be determined by the following population ranges:


Radius (feet)

Area (squaremile)













This circle does not constitute the formal delineation of the wellhead protection area. The formal delineation of the wellhead protection area will require more site-specific information on the well(s), spring(s), and geology. This is described in Step 3 (Section 3.3).

The survey can be facilitated by using the higher and moderate category sources listed in Table 3-2 (Section 3.4). These are typical sources known or suspected to have contributed to groundwater contamination in Oregon and other areas of the country. The individual(s) conducting the Pre-Plan Assessment should simply mark the location of any of these activities on the map. We suggest marking those designated as higher risks in red and those designated as moderate risks in yellow.

Regardless of the radius used for the Pre-Plan Assessment, it may be useful to draw additional circles at 500 foot intervals around the well or spring in order to provide a better estimate of how close the sources are to the well. The end product of the survey will be the annotated map showing potential higher- and moderate-risk sources in relationship to the well or spring. You may wish to make note of the actual numbers of these facilities within 1,000 feet of your well or spring. The area immediately around the wellhead or spring box is the most critical area to be protected. In general, if you have more than five potential sources within 1,000 feet of your well or spring, you will want to accelerate your efforts in developing a wellhead protection plan.

The Pre-Plan Assessment is an indicator of the threat only and cannot be used to quantify actual risks to the drinking water source. It does serve, however, to give the community an overall picture of the potential threats to groundwater in their area and may provide an impetus to develop strategies to protect that resource.

The resulting map from a Pre-Plan Assessment can be a very powerful tool in generating awareness and support from the general public for wellhead protection. We recommend the map be used in conjunction with an informational meeting of the community, at which DEQ and/or OHD provide technical support through presentations and handouts.

Return to: Chapter 3 Steps

Return to: TABLE OF CONTENTS, Water Quality Home Page, DEQ Home Page