Wellhead Protection Program


A Wellhead Protection Program is a voluntary program which assists communities and other public water suppliers in preventing contamination of their water supplies.

The Wellhead Protection Program (WHP) originated from the 1986 amendments to the Safe Water Drinking Act.  Congress directed each state to enact a program to prevent the contamination of ground water used by public water supply wells.  The United States Environmental Protection Agency received Nebraska's proposed program in 1989 and approved the program in June 1991.

The goal of Nebraska's Wellhead Protection Program is to protect the land and groundwater surrounding public drinking water supply wells from contamination.  Since approximately 85% of Nebraskans receive their drinking water from groundwater, preventing groundwater contamination is vital.

Developing a Local Wellhead Protection Plan

The Wellhead Protection planning process includes identifying the land surrounding the public water supply wells to be protected, identifying potential sources of groundwater contamination within this area, and managing the potential contaminant sources.  Emergency, contingency and long term plans are also developed for the community water supply, all the while educating and involving the public.

Features of the Wellhead Protection Program

  1. Delineation - A Wellhead Protection area is calculated from information such as the geologic material the well is drilled into and the annual pumpage of the well.  Computer-generated flow lines depict the approximate path groundwater, or a contaminant in groundwater, will take to reach a well.  Flow lines are then associated with estimated times-of-travel and a boundary is drawn on property lines enclosing all 20-year-flow lines.  The Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (NDEQ) provides these maps at no charge. 
  2. Potential Contaminant Source Inventory - The purpose of a contaminant source inventory is to identify potential contaminants that may pollute drinking water.  Inventories should be compiled from existing databases and on-the-ground observations.  Contact the NDEQ Wellhead Protection Program for shapefiles/maps and spreadsheets from existing databases.  Common potential contaminants that are recorded are:  Agricultural (fuel storage, grain storage, water well, chemigation, livestock), Commerical/Light Industry (auto repair, dry cleaners, fuel stations, machine shops, rail yards), Industry (manufacturing, gas/oil wells, junk yards, landfills, sewage treatment facilities) and Other (cemeteries, golf courses, highway maintenance yards, transporation corridors).
  3. Contaminant Source Management - Management of a groundwater supply by local communities can involve a number of possible steps.  These may include the enactment of sanitary and water ordinances, public nusiance laws, and zoning restrictions on specific land uses; the purchase of land or conservation easements; cooperative efforts with local NRDs; or voluntary actions.  Best Management Practices should be encouraged throughout the Wellhead Protection Area.  Some water systems subsidize or even completely fund these practices. 
  4. Emergency, Contingency and Long-Term Planning - A plan is developed to provide a replacement source of drinking water in the event of:  (a) shutdown of a well due to contamination, (b) a natural disaster that impacts wells (i.e. flood, tornado, drought, ice storm, etc.), (c) major mechanical or a physical breakdown of the pump, water tower or distribution system, and (d) vandalism to the well, water tower/storage or supply source.  The main requierments here are to include a reference copy of your emergency plan, identify a safe short-term, temporary source of drinking water and to identify options for obtaining a new long-term source of water (i.e. possible locations for new wells, or identifying other public water systems to purchase water from).
  5. Public Participation and Education - Throughout the entire process of wellhead protection, the public is the key component for success.  The public's understanding, support and comments make conducting the local WHP Program easier. The Wellhead Protection Plan should be available at least 30 days prior to the meeting where public comment on the plan will be recorded.  The governing body should take comments at a regularly scheduled meeting of the controlling entity (village board, city council, RWD board, etc.), there should be public notice of both of the above referenced meetings and proof of such public meetings and notices shall be provided.
Wellhead Protection Map