Source Water Protection Collaborative

A state-wide initiative, the Source Water Protection Collaborative, began in 2019 when Environmental Initiative, the Minnesota Department of Health, and Citizens League explored needs and opportunities for land use and land use decisions that protect drinking water supplies.

Today, the Collaborative brings together individuals who have expertise in source water, community outreach and engagement, or public health to develop ways to collectively promote land use that protects our sources of drinking water. As part of their initial work, the collaborative members developed the following vision and purpose statements:

Vision:  We make choices on the land that ensure clean, safe drinking water for all.

Purpose:  Bringing together diverse groups and perspectives to advance collective action for protecting drinking water.

Collaborative Members

Initial Collaborative members were invited because of the role each play in engagement, source water, and/or public health. At this stage, Collaborative members are helping to:

  • Develop a vision to drive the Collaborative
  • Define goals and a logic model for how the Collaborative will work together
  • Determine the structure of the Collaborative and its members, stakeholders, and interested parties
  • Plan for ongoing work and action, including setting organizational expectations for ongoing collaborative support

Collaborative Members:

  • Sarah Berry, Local Public Health Association and Waseca County Public Health
  • Mae Davenport, University of Minnesota
  • Annie Felix-Gerth, Board of Water and Soil Resources
  • Tim Gieseke, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
  • Larry Gunderson, Minnesota Department of Agriculture (alternate)
  • Stephanie Hatzenbihler, City of Rochester Department of Public Works
  • Nick Jordan, Forever Green
  • Linda Kingery, Northwest Regional Sustainable Development Partnership
  • Amanda Lovelee, Metropolitan Council
  • Naida Medicine Crow, community member
  • Aaron Meyer, Minnesota Rural Water Association
  • Catherine Neuschler, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency
  • Alycia Overbo, Minnesota Department of Public Health
  • Sarah Roth, University of Minnesota (alternate)
  • Dave Schulenberg, Minnesota Water Well Association
  • Pat Shea, American Water Works Association and Saint Paul Regional Water Services
  • Stephanie Souter, Local Public Health Association and Washington County Department of Public Health and Environment (alternate)
  • Bruce Tiffany, farmer
  • Jennifer Tonko, Minnesota Humanities Center
  • Lisa Vollbrecht, American Water Works Association and Saint Cloud Public Utilities Department (alternate)
  • Margaret Wagner, Minnesota Department of Agriculture
  • Nathan Weise, East Otter Tail Soil and Water Conservation District
  • Ed Zabinski, Itasca Waters

The Collaborative's Intentions

The Collaborative has the potential to harness powerful results through:

  • Facilitating the sharing of knowledge between communities with similar efforts and concerns
  • Leveraging and learning from the many projects and policy planning efforts about ways drinking water protection is impacted throughout the state
  • Expanding the capacity of local and state government officials responsible for providing drinking water, particularly to engage with those who have been marginalized from government decision-making, such as farmers, rural residents, immigrant communities, people of color and indigenous folks, and small businesses
  • Supporting local community partnerships and trust-building efforts, focusing on those who have been marginalized, in order to build a stronger civic fabric and greater collective capacity for securing safe drinking water for all.

What is Source Water?

The drinking water that comes from our tap has a source — an origin.  For example, the water source for Twin Cities’ residents is the Mississippi River. This Collaborative focuses on two types water sources: surface water and ground water.  Surface water includes sources such as a river, stream, lake, reservoir, pond, and a spring. Ground water is actually water beneath the ground. Sources of groundwater include rain and snow, which dissipates and flows deep into the ground until it eventually reaches a water source — a river, spring, or pond. Both types of sources provide water to public drinking water supplies and private wells.

The diagram below highlights how two water sources — surface water and groundwater — are protected within our drinking water system.

Why Protect Our Source Water?

Contamination poses a significant threat to our source water. The way we use the land, coupled with climate change, has put an immense burden on our source water, increasing our health risks. Protecting the quality of our source water is crucial not only to human existence; it’s also crucial for the preservation of our wildlife and our woodlands and forests. Additionally, protecting our source water reduces treatment costs and ensures the quantity and availability of our water supplies.

Want to learn more? Watch this brief video about source water protection for Minnesota’s public water supplies; it explains sources of pollution, treatment of public water supplies, and ways to prevent source water contamination.

Features on the land and infrastructure also can introduce contamination to the drinking water source. These can include abandoned wells, septic systems, feedlots, or wastewater and stormwater infrastructure. Practices on the land such as application of fertilizer or road salt can also introduce contamination into source waters. Source water protection activities protect people from the health effects of contaminants picked up by water as it moves over or through land.

Contaminants that are a Major Threat

The Minnesota Department of Health considers contamination by humans and the natural environment major threats to our drinking water. Examples of each include:

Contamination by human practices:

  • Land uses
  • Aging wastewater infrastructure
  • Prescription medication use and disposal
  • Product use (like plastics, sunscreen, etc)

Contaminants from the natural environment:

One of the major types of human activity that impacts drinking water is land use. The water that ends up in public drinking water supplies and private wells first passes over or through the land where it can pick up contaminants. The land uses that could contaminate drinking water include landfills, storage tanks, septic systems, stormwater runoff from roads and land surfaces, mining, agriculture, forestry manufacturing, and more. Tackling the human causes of contamination that happen as a result of land uses can help protect water quality and quantity for future generations. This is especially important because treating contamination can cost as much as twenty times the cost of protection.

There are tradeoffs and barriers that make it challenging to prioritize the protection of drinking water sources. One of the main challenges is the competition between protection of land versus the development of that land for additional economic benefits. Complexity of the contamination sources, unaligned incentives, time constraints, and short-term community priorities can lead operators to choose treatment over protection. In some areas, significant parcels of land have been put into the public trust for the purpose of protecting drinking water supplies, but most of the land from which our source waters drain is privately owned and managed. This means that preventing the contamination of drinking water supplies throughout the state requires coordinated action across sectors and among landowners and operators whom have diverse interests.

Examples of Source Water Protection

Source water protection includes a variety of activities and actions that are aimed at safeguarding, maintaining, or improving the quality and/or quantity of sources of drinking water. Other examples of source water protection projects, programs or plans throughout Minnesota include:

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) is tasked with ensuring that all Minnesotans have access to clean and safe drinking water, including protecting our drinking water sources, both for surface water systems and ground water systems (per the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act and state statute). More information about various threats to drinking water and what’s being done to prevent them can be found on the Minnesota Department of Health website.