Drinking Water:

Stronger Efforts Needed to Protect Areas Around Public Wells From Contamination

RCED-93-96: Published: Apr 14, 1993. Publicly Released: May 4, 1993.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) and state efforts to implement the wellhead protection (WHP) program, focusing on the: (1) barriers to states' WHP program development and implementation; and (2) options available to overcome implementation barriers.

GAO found that: (1) only 26 states and 1 territory have complied with the 1989 legislative requirement that states develop and implement EPA-approved WHP programs; (2) no state has completed the key WHP program elements in accordance with the legislation or defined all of its WHP areas; (3) 21 states are developing WHP programs and 3 states have no plans to develop WHP programs; (4) barriers that hinder states' efforts to develop and implement WHP programs have included a lack of WHP funding, the low priority of WHP programs, states' reluctance to enact local land-use controls, a lack of public awareness regarding the need to protect wellhead areas, and a shortage of technical data and expertise to properly delineate WHP areas and identify sources of contamination; and (5) options to resolve WHP program funding problems include greater program integration between federal WHP programs and comprehensive state groundwater protection programs and assigning a higher funding priority to all WHP programs.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Through its regional office staff, EPA collected information on state funding needs for the Wellhead Protection Program for all states having approved wellhead protection programs. Additional data collection efforts on funding needs are not planned.

    Recommendation: To enhance the protection of groundwater and prevent future contamination problems, the Administrator, EPA, should work with the states to determine the minimum funding levels needed to implement their WHP programs adequately.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Although EPA's fiscal year 1995 budget does not contain funding for wellhead protection, EPA has been working with the cognizant authorizing committees of Congress on various issues relating to the reauthorization of the Safe Drinking Water Act. As part of these discussions, EPA is recommending that source water protection programs, including wellhead protection, be eligible for funding under the proposed Drinking Water State Revolving Fund.

    Recommendation: To enhance the protection of groundwater and prevent future contamination problems, the Administrator, EPA, should work with the cognizant authorizing and appropriations committees of Congress during the fiscal year 1994 budget process to identify minimum funding levels that are better aligned with the benefits of WHP programs as preventive programs designed to reduce the contamination of the nation's drinking water.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency


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