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Source Water Protection

Clean Water Starts with You!

The area of land which drains rainwater and groundwater to a river is called a watershed (see figure 1). Each watershed is separated topographically by a ridge or hill. When the river is also used as a drinking water source, the watershed is referred to as a water supply watershed.

We all live in a watershed and our individual actions can directly affect it. When pollutants are spilled, distributed or dumped onto the ground they make their way into rivers and streams via surface and ground water flows. Within a water supply watershed this can result in the contamination of a drinking water source.

Figure 1. A Watershed

Activities in and around our homes may contribute only small amounts of pollutants, but they add up to larger pollution problems in the watershed. While some treatment to drinking water is usually necessary, the costs of treatment and risks to public health can be reduced by ensuring that our drinking water is protected from contamination of a drinking water source.

What can contaminate our drinking water?

There are many contaminants that may be present in source water before it is treated. These include:

  • Microbial contaminants, such as viruses and bacteria. These may come from sewage treatment plants, septic systems, agricultural livestock operations, and wildlife.

  • Inorganic contaminants, such as salts and metals. These can occur naturally or result from urban stormwater runoff, industrial or domestic wastewater discharges, oil and gas production, mining, or farming.
  • Pesticides and herbicides. These may come from a variety of sources such as agriculture, stormwater runoff, and residential uses.
  • Organic chemical contaminants, including synthetic and volatile organic chemicals. These are by-products of industrial processes and petroleum production, and can also come from gas stations, urban stormwater runoff, and septic systems.
  • Radioactive contaminants, which can be naturally occurring or be the result of oil and gas production and mining activities.

Protect our drinking water!

Protection of drinking water from contamination at the source can be successful in providing public health protection and reducing the treatment challenge for public water suppliers. Source water quality can be threatened by many everyday activities and land uses, ranging from industrial wastes to the chemicals applied to suburban lawns. These pollutants are moved into our rivers, lakes and streams through runoff from rain, snow melt and overwatering. Since this water is not treated before it enters waterways, it is especially important to make sure these chemicals and pollutants do not enter our storm drains.

Watersheds come in all shapes and sizes. They cross county, state, and national boundaries. Not only do we impact the county we live in by polluting our source water, we also can impact neighboring counties that are in the same watershed as us and use the streams or rivers as their drinking water source.

Figure 2 shows how your individual actions may affect areas of our county and neighboring counties downstream.

Click here for a larger picture.


Figure 2. Water Supply Watersheds in Gwinnett County and neighboring Counties

If the drinking water source is not protected, contamination can cause a community significant expense as well as put people's health in danger. Cleaning up contamination or finding a new source of drinking water is complicated, costly, and sometimes impossible.

Gwinnett County’s Stormwater Management Division is taking action to protect our streams and drinking water through a number of programs. These programs focus on educating citizens regarding the need to protect water supplies, and on the implementation of relevant laws and policies. We maintain and monitor stormwater drainage systems and enforce Gwinnett County’s Illicit Discharge and Illegal Connection Ordinance to reduce the discharge of nonpoint source pollution that may contaminate our drinking water.

What can you do to protect our drinking water?

1. Use and dispose of harmful material properly. Pollutants that are exposed to rainwater or that are dumped on or buried in the ground can contaminate water supplies.

2. Store all pollutants in a contained and covered area (see figure 3).

See Gwinnett County Publication WQ-03 Secondary Containment for additional guidance.

Figure 3. Secondary Containment
3. Reduce paved areas! Use porous surfaces such as gravel that allow rain to soak into the ground rather than causing it to runoff.

4. Do not hose off your driveway or sidewalks. Use a broom instead.
5. Never dispose of oil or other waste down a catch basin. It will lead straight to local streams and contaminate the watershed.
6. Don't Overuse Pesticides or Fertilizers. Follow label directions. Many of these products contain hazardous chemicals that can travel through the soil and contaminate ground water.

7. Never add lawn chemicals on days when it is predicted to rain in the next 48 hours.

8. Wash your vehicles and equipment over lawn or gravel to prevent polluted runoff from entering storm drains.

9. Audit your site to identify risks and establish a site specific emergency plan that can be activated in the event of an incident that could threaten a water source. A simple audit form is available by clicking here.

10. Ensure adequate spill control equipment is provided and maintained in good working order.

11. Conduct periodic leak testing on underground storage tanks.

12. Notify Gwinnett County and the GA Environmental Protection Division of any spills immediately by phone at 678-376-7000 and 1-800-241-4113 respectively. Both numbers are manned 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.

For more information regarding this issue please contact Gwinnett County’s Stormwater Management Division at 678-376-6949 or look at our Source Water Protection Brochure.