Understanding Source Water Protection

By Mali Anderson in Thinking Sustainably

From the food you eat to the clothes you wear, water is fundamental to everyday life. Water is also an essential resource for human and climate health, but contamination puts water sources at risk. Thankfully, you can take individual action and support community efforts to safeguard water quality in your area, working toward better access to clean water for all. Read on to learn more about source water protection and how you can get involved in your small corner of the world to make a big impact.

Why Are Water Sources Important?

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), source water refers to rivers, lakes, streams, springs, reservoirs, and aquifers that furnish public drinking water suppliers and private wells. Vital for survival—both on an individual level and for the health of the planet—source water protection strives to prevent contamination of these water sources. As world population and industry increase, human activity has put a strain on freshwater ecosystems, leading to increased pressure on water supplies for drinking, food production, and industry.

These water supplies are also necessary to sustain the ecosystems that allow our planet to thrive. While freshwater only makes up a small fraction of the world's water supply, it's home to hundreds of thousands of animals and plants. According to the World Wildlife Fund, more than 10 percent of all known animals and about half of all known fish species live in freshwater.

A hand holding a green cup in a flowing river.

As more waterways face development pressure, activists and environmental stewards have pushed back, fighting for the protection, restoration, and preservation of waterways. For example, the Colorado River Conservancy, co-founded by Tom's of Maine Incubator Alexia Leclercq, works to assemble a diverse array of stakeholders to protect the natural character of the Colorado River.

Where Do We Get Our Water?

It can be easy to take clean water for granted when it simply appears from the faucets in your home. But many organizations, including the EPA and water utilities, work to bring clean, safe water into homes and businesses every day. In fact, the EPA reports that approximately 90 percent of the US population gets their drinking water from a public water system (PWS). But where does this water come from?

Surface Water

Some PWS water is gathered through surface water sources, including rivers, streams, lakes, and reservoirs. Surface water sources also provide water for irrigation and to cool equipment used to generate electricity.


Aptly named, groundwater refers to precipitation that seeps into the soil and collects between rocks underground. While it's held beneath the surface, this water can bubble up to replenish and maintain surface water sources and can be used for drinking water, irrigation, and agriculture.

Water Treatment

Regardless of the source, water is then treated for contaminants following the Safe Drinking Water Act—including waste, pesticides, and chemicals—through a process of disinfection, filtration, and debris removal. Once it's been treated and is safe for consumption and use, it's stored in holding tanks. It's then distributed through large pipes (often referred to as water mains). These mains supply water lines, which are smaller pipes that enter your home.

While the majority of US residents are served through public systems, some aren't. To help resolve this inequity, Leclercq also supports the social justice organization PODER. PODER strives to pass legislation at the federal level to allow local governments to buy out private water companies if they aren't serving communities with affordable, clean water.

Child drinking from an outdoor faucet.

How Can You Help Protect Water Sources?

A strong source water protection program is one of the most cost-effective ways to maintain and improve the quality and quantity of source water. Here are a handful of ways you can help mitigate risks and protect drinking water supplies:

Engage with Source Water Protection Week

American Water Works Association invites individuals, water utilities, and other partners to recognize September 24-30, 2023 as Source Water Protection Week. You can join this initiative and raise awareness about the importance of source water, including sharing educational materials, creating posters or newsletters, engaging on social media, and connecting with local organizations to discuss ways to promote source water protection efforts throughout the year.

Clean Up After Your Pets

Pet waste can wash into creeks, streams, and lakes, so always pick up after your pet and dispose of their waste responsibly. Dog waste includes nitrogen and phosphorus, which deplete oxygen levels in water (which fish need to thrive) and can lead to harmful algae growth.

Dispose of Materials Correctly

Not all products are safe to pour down the drain or onto the ground. Some materials can permeate the soil and contaminate groundwater, including motor oil, pesticides, paint, flea collars, cleaners, medicines, and mothballs. Make sure you understand how to dispose of these products responsibly and use them in moderation.

Volunteer and Connect with Others

Share your time with water protection organizations or join a river cleanup in your area to help keep water supplies healthy. This is also a great way to meet others who are active in source water preservation efforts. Who knows—you may even launch your own source water initiative!

As you self-educate about local water systems, share your knowledge loud and wide. Together, we can work to build a healthier future for ourselves, our communities, and the planet. Looking for more? Learn how Tom's of Maine supported the Gulf of Maine Research Institute to improve the ecological health of the ocean ecosystem.

Image Source: Pexels | Pexels | Pexels

The views and opinions expressed in any guest post featured on our site are those of the guest author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of Tom's of Maine.

Why It's Good

People need reliable access to clean water for drinking, agriculture, transportation, and more. You can get involved on a local level to help protect this vital resource and ensure everyone has access to safe water.