Protecting Source Water Areas

Rivers, lakes, and aquifers are the sources that supply public water systems and private wells. Source water protection is a community effort to prevent pollution before it reaches these water sources and becomes a public health and economic problem.

Source-water_350-(1).jpgA big challenge with a role for everyone

Our shared regional goal is to ensure safe, sustainable, and sufficient drinking water for the region. Public water supplies are managed by local governments, and the Met Council works with them to ensure drinking water sustainability. All of us – including public water suppliers, land use planners and developers, watershed management organizations, business owners and managers, residents, and others need to work together to protect the land areas that are the sources for our region’s water supply.

The scope of this work is big. The Minnesota Department of Health has defined one-third of the metro area as important source water protection areas, many of which cross multiple jurisdictions. A source water protection area requires special management in order to protect the water supply sources it provides.  Over half of Minnesota’s population is supplied by water flowing through these areas.

Primary drivers of hazards and risks to water sources

Highlighting the challenges we face helps us improve understanding and collaboration to protect the land areas that are the sources for the region’s water supply. Several drivers influence the hazards and risks to our source waters. They include:

  • Current and future climate
  • Sensitivity to potential contamination of near-surface sediments and underlying bedrock
  • Land cover and land use
  • Federal and state programs
With these drivers in mind, our policy and planning recommendations focus on the following crucial concerns:
  • Implementing land management and source water protection practices
  • Source water contamination
  • Costs and benefits of source water protection

Our research paper, Protecting Source Water Areas, provides regional policy makers with information about opportunities to ensure clean water for future generations, specifically by protecting land that contributes to our water supplies.

Policies for protection of source water areas

The challenge of protecting our source water areas reveals the need for a regional One Water approach – recognizing the connections between groundwater, lakes, streams, rivers, wastewater, and stormwater. This means that we embrace integrative water planning within the seven-county metropolitan region to achieve sustainable and equitable water outcomes. We also champion strong regional policies, and better, more frequent collaboration to effectively act in ways that protect our source waters.

Those partnerships include cities and townships, watershed organizations, state and federal agencies, and other water practitioners. Together we can work to undo past harms and safeguard our water and water infrastructure now and into the future. Addressing our region’s complex water challenges requires diversity of thought, multiple perspectives, and innovative solutions.

At the Met Council we work collectively with our partners in several ways to protect source water, including partnerships, long-range visioning and planning, regional system investments and operations, technical assistance, and research and assessment. Here we offer draft policy and action recommendations, building on current water policy, related to protection of our source water areas.

New policy on collaboration and partnerships

We propose a clear policy for collaboration and partnerships to advance equity, along with other water goals. That policy would clarify what the Met Council will do with whom to achieve the goals of the 2050 Regional Development Guide and Water Resources Policy Plan. Proposed supporting actions to protect source water areas:

  • The Met Council will support cross-community collaboration among public water suppliers and their communities.
  • The Met Council will support and participate with partners on outreach and engagement.
  • The Met Council will engage with residents and businesses to understand water values.
  • The Met Council will prioritize inter-agency collaboration.

New policy on integrated water planning

We propose a clear policy for long-range integrated water planning to better address the root causes of events that threaten water supply sources. This should incorporate the watershed approach (managing water on hydrologically defined boundaries) and connect it throughout all our water planning efforts. It should include support for long-term source water protection. Proposed supporting actions to protect source water areas include:

  • The Met Council will promote integration across watershed, water supply, and wastewater planning.
  • The Met Council will support local planning efforts to increase source water protection activities.

Enhanced policy on reuse

We propose improving the clarity and focus of our reuse policy, including recommended approaches to protect source water quality and reduce risk.

2040 Water Resources Policy Plan water reuse policy: The Met Council will work with our partners to identify emerging issues and challenges for the region as we work together on solutions that include the use of water conservation, wastewater and stormwater reuse, and low-impact development practices to promote a more sustainable region.

Proposed supporting actions to protect source water areas:

  • The Met Council will identify and evaluate the economic and technical feasibility of best practices to enhance groundwater recharge.
  • The Met Council will plan for long-range regional investments that protect source water quality and quantity.

Enhanced policy on our wastewater sustainability

We propose enhancing the implementation strategies under the policy on sustainable wastewater to support source water protection activities at our regional wastewater facilities and project sites to reduce public health and regulatory risk. Proposed supporting actions to protect source water areas:

  • The Met Council will identify opportunities to protect source water on Met Council-owned property and project/program sites (Appendix B offers guidance to consider).
  • The Met Council will identify opportunities to manage assets in ways that protect source waters.

Revised policy on investment

We propose improving the clarity and focus of the current investment policy to better establish roles for Environmental Services and other parts of the Met Council. Proposed supporting actions to protect source water areas:

  • The Met Council will describe the process to determine regional benefits (particularly important for source water protection investments).
  • The Met Council will recognize and leverage different funding sources.

New policy on protecting regional water resources

We propose a more focused and integrated policy and supporting actions to shape Met Council’s work to protect water resources including source water areas. Proposed supporting actions to protect source water areas:

  • The Met Council, with local partners, will identify areas where local integration is required to protect source waters including a process for equitable stakeholder input and results.
  • The Met Council will support implementation-related collaboration to protect regional water resources.
  • The Met Council will provide data, information, and planning tools to assist local governments in resilient water resources and infrastructure planning and decision-making.

New policy on assessing water resources

We propose to consider establishing a more focused and integrated policy to shape our work to assess regional water resources. This should include source water areas. The region has additional assessment needs that are discussed in other research papers. Proposed supporting actions to protect source water areas:

  • The Met Council will support research and partnerships when assessing regional water resources, including assessment of source water areas.
  • The Met Council will support efforts that investigate water supply approaches to increase water conservation, enhance groundwater recharge, and most effectively use all our water resources.
  • The Met Council will analyze the impact of land practices on water quality and the vulnerability of source water areas and water supplies.

Provide your feedback

Provide your feedback

The survey linked below offers the opportunity to provide feedback about the ideas and recommendations generated in the paper and about the topic as a whole. Hearing feedback from the region will help us create a Water Resources Policy Plan that is more reflective of the values held by our residents and water professionals.

Protecting Source Water Areas Research Paper Survey