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Michigan’s Local Program for Wellhead Protection

water dropMichigan has a program for protecting a community’s drinking water quality that is implemented at the local level.  This is referred to as Michigan’s Wellhead Protection Program (WHPP).  The creation of WHPP was an outgrowth of the 1986 amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act that elevated the protection of key wellheads as a national goal. 

 Key features of WHPP are as follows:

  • It is a voluntary decision by the community to have such a program for protection of their drinking water wells; 
  • It is to be implemented at the local level and then coordinated with other local and state agencies; 
  • The community develops guidelines that are consistent with the State’s initiative. 

The elements of a Wellhead Protection Program include:

1.         Create an Oversight Committee:  The roles and responsibilities for implementation and maintaining the program, along with identification of all members of the wellhead protection team must be clearly stated;

2.         Define the Protected Zone:  Identification of the specific area that overlies the aquifer (also referred to as the Wellhead Protection Area – WHPA) covered by the wellhead protection plan.  The protected wellhead area is defined based on the likely contribution it has to groundwater quality and to impacting drinking water wells in the area.

To define the physical dimension of the area covered, an individual pumps a well for 24 to 72 hours to determine the amount of water available and the speed or velocity of the water. A calculation is then performed to determine how long it would take a particle from the defined area to travel to a drinking water well.  The area covered by the protection zone must prevent an adverse impact to a drinking well within a 10 year period.

The defined area is then submitted to the MDEQ for their review and approval.  Ultimately businesses within the defined area may receive closer observations and restrictions on business operations such as the installation of underground storage tanks;

3.         Contaminant Source Inventory:  Potential sources that could impact or pose a potential threat from contamination to groundwater quality within the protected area are to be identified and evaluated.  An inventory of potential sites of contamination and operational features such as businesses with existing underground storage tanks, Superfund and Part 201 cleanup sites, and other areas that have been impacted by oil and gas spills, are to be identified;

4.         Plan to Reduce Risk:  The community shall also prepare a plan with mechanism to reduce the risk of identified contamination from reaching public water supply, within the protected wellhead area;

5.         Emergency Response:  In the event there is an impact or an emergency associated with the water supply, the plan directs what emergency steps shall be undertaken.  The plan can specifically set forth the procedures for containing or isolating an impacted well within the water supply, and provide notice to the community to prevent further use of the water;

6.         Assess the Availability of Drinking Water: Additional wellhead protection activities include a complete assessment of the public water supply by confirming the quality of the existing groundwater, the availability of drinking water and exact well locations.  The plan may also assess whether there should be future development of wells to expand water production in the community and an assessment of alternative water supply options;

7.         Community Education:  Implement a program of community participation and education on the importance of protecting the  water supply in the community.

            This voluntary program is a unique merger of community and MDEQ efforts to protect the State’s water supply. It is the overarching objective of both the local community and the MDEQ to implement the WHPP so as to protect the water supply through controls that include; defining the protected zoning, responding to threats and educating the public.  Ultimately, the WHPP may add an additional layer of oversight that must be considered during the remediation selection process to ensure community acceptance.

About Susan J. Sadler

Susan J. Sadler is a founding Member of Dawda, Mann, Mulcahy & Sadler, PLC. She is the head of the Environmental, Energy and Sustainability practice group. She concentrates her legal practice on a broad spectrum of environmental issues.

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