Conditions change over time as a community develops and new land uses are added near public water supply sources. Water is an essential service, needed to sustain every community.

Good planning balances community wide interests with growth to protect property values, prevent negative impacts and assure sustainability for future generations. Source water protection, when done well, is a continuous process that keeps up with changes in the community.  It is easy to recognize the need to protect a community’s water supply. But when it comes to implementation of a source water protection plan, momentum often seems to slow, or even stop.

Community leaders have the option of getting a jump on potential drinking water pollution and not letting themselves be too complacent and skeptical in thinking that “it could never happen here.” Moving beyond plans and studies raises a number of concerns that can become hurdles. Implementing source water protection is part science, part proactive land use management and in large part, good human relations to build the necessary cooperation with community stakeholders.

Water systems are intended to operate in perpetuity.  They are essential infrastructure needed for communities to continue to exist over time.  The future of groundwater aquifers and the streams, rivers and water sources that replenish community water systems should not be left to chance.

Many professional planners, as well as hundreds of citizen planners that volunteer on planning commissions across Pennsylvania, have had little or no formal training in the protection of municipal water supplies that operate in their political jurisdictions.

Typically, there may be very little interaction between water systems and planners or planning bodies.  Planners may be unfamiliar with source water protection (SWP) and water supply planning, how it can boost other related community efforts such as greenway or open space planning, stormwater management, or the fact that resources are available at no out of pocket cost from PADEP.  Many planners lack skills or the comfort level to get started with implementation of a SWP plan.

Help is available.  The Pennsylvania Municipal Planning Education Institute (PMPEI) has worked with WREN and PADEP over the past few years to develop course materials integrating community planning with Source Water Protection.  Please contact PMPEI for further information.  Planners may also wish to contact their PADEP SWP Regional Coordinator to learn more about the status of source water protection plans in their County or municipality.

Comprehensive Planning

The long-range comprehensive plan is a community’s most basic policy document.  The PA Municipalities Planning Code (MPC) empowers municipalities within the Commonwealth to adopt comprehensive plans. These plans become the cornerstones upon which communities base future land use decisions.

The Comprehensive Plan is the starting point for wellhead protection and source water protection since this plan provides the founda­tion for all tools of land use management at the local level. It sets forth goals and policies to guide future land use and development of a community. In the event that a community’s wellhead/source water protection pro­gram is ever challenged, one of the best defenses is a well formulated and consistently implemented comprehensive plan that provides the basis and rationale for the challenged action.

Included in Pennsylvania’s MPC comprehensive plan requirements is the need to provide for the protection of natural resources: specifically, the need to include provisions which will protect a reliable supply of water.

Image courtesy of PMPEI's Dr. Stan Lembeck

Land use and development patterns have a large impact upon water resources; therefore, comprehensive planning becomes an important tool that can be utilized to influence the impact land use decisions will have upon water resources.

Far too few Comprehensive Plans in Pennsylvania today specifically include source water protection.  The result is a missed opportunity to infuse an important tool for water supply sustainability into comprehensive plans across the Commonwealth.  The omission can leave water systems that do not own their recharge areas at the mercy of ill-informed land use decisions, and possibly higher costs due to expensive treatment technology upgrades that may be needed down the road.

The Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code (MPC §301 (b)) mandates a “Plan for Water:”

MPC §301 (b)

The comprehensive plan shall include a plan for the reliable supply of water, considering current and future water resources availability, uses and limitations, including provisions adequate to protect water supply sources.


For additional planning tools and resources, please see:

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