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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awarded the Amherst County, Virginia watershed protection program the 2004 source water protection award for its efforts to protect local drinking water sources.
"Safe drinking water is a finite and precious resource. We applaud the partners in the Amherst County watershed protection program for taking the steps to protect the community’s drinking water," said Donald S. Welsh, mid-Atlantic regional administrator.
Amherst County, the Town of Amherst, the Amherst County Service Authority and the Robert E. Lee Water and Soil Conservation District have been working together since 1984 in their source water protection efforts. Lynchburg and Sweet Briar Colleges are assisting in the effort and have provided college interns. These organizations also work with the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.
Together the organizations have had zoning ordinances adopted, conducted field surveys, and provided financial assistance to install and implement best management practices in their watershed. The result is a coordinated source water protection program for the Harris Creek, Graham Creek, and Buffalo River Watersheds that supply drinking water for the community.
"We know that the health of our community depends upon clean drinking water so we are committed to protecting the sources," explains Vernon Wood, chairman of the Amherst County Board of Supervisors.
The Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments of 1996 require states to delineate the area supplying drinking water to each public water system, inventory the potential sources of contamination in the area, determine the susceptibility of the public water system to contaminants, and provide the results of the assessment to the public. Most states also have already established wellhead protection programs to protect groundwater supplies of drinking water.
It is then up to each public water system or community to use the wellhead protection and source water assessment program information to protect their local sources of drinking water. A wide variety of approaches can be used. Zoning ordinances, subdivision rules, or health regulations are regulatory tools. Non-regulatory tools include land acquisition, best management practices, educational outreach, and water quality and quantity monitoring.
The purpose of the annual source water protection award is to recognize and encourage leadership, innovation, and dedication to source water protection.
By recognizing exemplary programs, such as Amherst, EPA and the states can help focus attention on the importance of source water protection. Amherst’s program shows why and how it can work. Their success will encourage other communities to take similar steps.
The award is open to individuals, water suppliers, municipalities, civic groups and public and private organizations throughout EPA’s mid-Atlantic region, which includes Virginia, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.