Wisconsin’s Wellhead Protection ProgramAn ounce of prevention...

Clear, clean drinking water. It’s what we expect when we turn on the tap. The groundwater that supplies your community’s wells comes from rain and snow that generally falls within a short distance of the wells. This water seeps into the ground and moves toward your community’s wells. Sometimes, pollutants can also seep into the ground and threaten your community’s wells.

Wellhead protection is a preventive program designed to protect public water supply wells. The goal of wellhead protection is to prevent contaminants from entering public water supply wells by managing the land that contributes water to the wells [PDF 30KB].

Wellhead protection planning is one way to ensure your community has a long-term source of clean water.

More information about wellhead protection

Your community relies on groundwater for use in homes, businesses, and industries. Wellhead protection is a means by which your community can actively and efficiently protect its drinking water resources. Wellhead protection plans can be drafted through the efforts of citizens, state, and local governments.

Unlike many other environmental programs, wellhead protection is preventative in nature, not reactive. Wellhead protection aims at preventing contaminants from entering the area of land around your public water supply well(s). This area includes,

the surface or subsurface area surrounding a water well or wellfield supplying a public water system, through which contaminants are reasonably likely to move toward and reach such well or wellfield" (US EPA. 1987).

A wellhead protection area can be all or part of what is referred to as the recharge area for a given well (see figure 1). The recharge area for a well is identified as the entire area of land that allows water and other fluids to flow into the subsurface and move toward the well.

There are six primary activities in developing a wellhead protection plan for your community:

  1. Determine the scale of the planning area
    • one well?
    • all the wells in a municipality?
    • all the municipal wells in a county?
  2. Form a group of interested citizens, local planning and zoning officials, elected officials, and the water purveyors.
  3. Delineate the land area to be protected.
  4. Identify and locate the potential contaminant sources within the wellhead protection area.
  5. Assess the adequacy of existing programs to protect groundwater from identified contaminant sources.
  6. Plan for the future. Develop local plans to establish zoning restrictions, ordinances and other programs to minimize the chances of future contamination.

Through your efforts, and a wellhead protection program, your community and local government can work together to protect your quality of life now and for future generations.

Wellhead protection areas

Ideally, a wellhead protection area (WHPA), is the entire recharge area for the well. Often, the entire recharge area for a well is too large to be managed effectively, a smaller area around a well may be chosen. The WHPA is then delineated so that the highest priority contaminant sources nearest to the well can be addressed.

Sources of groundwater contamination

Hundreds of types of potential sources of contamination have been identified. Groundwater problems can originate on the land surface or subsurface through:

  • chemical storage;
  • landspreading of sewage treatment plant sludges;
  • road salt usage and storage;
  • animal feedlots;
  • use and spillage of fertilizers and accidental spills;
  • septic tanks and drainfields;
  • leakage from underground storage tanks;
  • leakage from underground pipelines and sewers;
  • sewage lagoons;
  • sanitary landfills;
  • waste disposal in excavations;
  • sumps and dry wells;
  • graveyards;
  • improperly filled and sealed wells;
  • drainage wells;
  • mines;
  • improperly constructed private wells.

These sources do not always threaten groundwater supplies. However, unless managed properly, they usually have the potential to do so.

The areas surrounding water wells are particularly vulnerable to these sources of contamination, since contaminants discharged in the recharge area of a pumping well may be drawn toward that well. Also, the proximity of most public water supply wells to the populations they serve, as well as to the everyday activities of the community, contribute to vulnerability.

Who is involved

To begin preparation of a local wellhead protection plan, a committee of local water utility officials, public health officials local or county planning agency staff, elected officials and interested citizens should be formed.

Remember that the key to wellhead protection is prevention. Prevention begins at home, in your neighborhood, in your town and in rural areas outside the city or village where groundwater may originate. The program itself relies on you to take action to ensure the quality of life for you and your neighbors. You are the key to a successful wellhead protection program. Take the time to get involved

Contact information
Jeff Helmuth
101 S Webster St
P.O. Box 7921
Madison WI 53707

Phone 608-266-5234
Fax 608-267-7650
Last revised: Monday February 25 2013