6.1 Well (Aquifer) Protection Plans
Well Protection Plans can be developed to provide protective measures for minimizing and preventing undesirable impacts from land use activities on subsurface community water sources. Many wells that provide water to communities or municipalities are located in areas where human activities can affect water quality. The impact is most severe where these “community wells” draw water from shallow aquifers that are vulnerable to contamination from land use activities and non-point sources of pollution. Protecting source water through a well protection plan is one of the steps in the multi-barrier approach to drinking water protection. Approximately 40 Well Protection Plans have been established in BC. The Ministry of Environment is the lead agency for the Well Protection Toolkit.
Characteristics, Benefits and Applications
Well or aquifer protection plans focus on protecting groundwater quality from potential pollution sources. These sources of pollution may come from the land above or near to the aquifer or well, or they may infiltrate into the groundwater source from elsewhere. These plans examine water quality threats from a variety of sources, including residential, industrial, commercial, institutional and agricultural land uses as well as natural resource development. Aquifer-wide plans are more likely to be effective and deliver water quality benefits than a plan that is focused on an individual well without looking at the broader connections of multiple wells and pollution sources across an entire aquifer.
Well protection plans are developed for an area that includes the recharge area for a well or aquifer. It is important to consider all land uses and associated threats to groundwater quality. Therefore, the use of a holistic approach to planning is encouraged. A more holistic approach may aim to address multiple aquifers within a region or community and it may also aim to address both quality and quantity issues. Depending on the water and land use pressures, and water-related vulnerabilities, a more comprehensive Groundwater Management Plan may be appropriate in some areas.
Key Elements and Steps
In partnership with the BC Ground Water Association, the Province of BC published the Well Protection Toolkit, which was updated in 2006. Over the last five years, communities in BC have been using the toolkit to develop protection plans for their wells and aquifers, and to prevent contamination of their groundwater supply.4 The toolkit presents a six-step approach to developing and implementing a protection plan to prevent well water contamination. The six steps, briefly summarized, are as follows:
These six steps can be incorporated as a policy commitment into Official Community Plans or as part of Water Management Plans.4 However, there is some uncertainty about the authority of local governments to invoke the protection measures referred to above, as well as the resource capacity to enforce these protection measures.
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PROTECTING DRINKING WATER QUALITY