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Source water protection

The water that supplies your community's wells or intakes comes from rain and snow that falls within a short distance. This water seeps into or flows over the ground and moves toward water supply wells or intakes. Activities and facilities on the ground surface can contribute substances or contaminants that are carried by water flowing to the well.

Source water protection reduces risk for both wells and surface water intakes. Wellhead protection is a term used specifically for wells – but the concepts are the same.

diagram of source water

Source water comes from rain and snow that seeps into or flows over the ground before moving into water supply wells or intakes.

Why protect source water

Source water protection helps prevent contaminants from entering sources of drinking water. It's the first line of defense to reduce the chance that contaminants will be in a glass of water from your tap. Source water protection avoids potential health risk and minimizes the need for costly monitoring, new wells or treatment systems that add to your water bill.

All new municipal wells since 1992 are required to have wellhead protection plans under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. A protection plan for all public drinking water wells and surface water intakes is encouraged as the first step to reduce both costs and health risk. With a plan in place, a community can take protective actions.

How to protect source water

Develop a local program
water tower

Planning steps for wellhead protection can also be used for surface water intakes.

Wellhead protection

The wellhead protection plan review checklist helps guide sound plan content and ensure plan approval before your new well goes into service.

Surface water systems

How to delineate source water protection areas and helpful information for Great Lakes systems.


Private wells

Protection and maintenance of a private well is the responsibility of homeowners. Learn how to protect your private well.

Technical assistance
source water

Wisconsin Rural Water Association has an active source water assistance program for municipalities. Wisconsin DNR can help access planning data and useful sources of assistance. Your county or regional planning agency may also be able to help. The Center for Land Use Education (CLUE) has resources and learning opportunities for communities to help them make sound land use decisions resulting in a sustainable Wisconsin.


My community status

Communities marked on this map have reported protective plans and have measures in place for all wells that supply drinking water to their customers as of August 2015. You can find out more about local efforts from the city or village web page or by contacting the water system operator.

To learn more about your public water system, type the community name in the DNR's drinking water data system.

Source water protection action

Get in touch with counterparts who have successfully tackled the same challenges faced by your water system. To share your own example here, contact the Wellhead Protection staff.

Community Actions
Chippewa County County-wide wellhead ordinance [exit DNR]
City of Waupaca Landowner agreements [exit DNR]
City of Marshfield Groundwater Guardians [exit DNR]

Learn more

To learn how your community can protect its drinking water supply through wellhead protection, watch:

An Ounce of Prevention [VIDEO Length 15:02]
wellhead protection video

Last revised: Tuesday June 14 2016