Welhead Protection Permitting and Inspection Program
Everyone in St. Joseph County obtains their drinking water from our abundant supplies of groundwater. The protection of this drinking water supply is key to maintaining the good health of the members of our community and to ensuring that our community remains a desirable place to live and do business. Our groundwater has historically been of a very good quality; however, the groundwater in many areas of the County are highly susceptible to groundwater contamination and it is critical to protect the quality of this groundwater.
The northeastern part of the County is particularly susceptible to groundwater contamination because the groundwater is very shallow and the soils that overlie the groundwater are sand and allow contaminants to easily move to the groundwater. This area includes all of the area north and east of the U.S. 20 Bypass. This area contains the St. Joseph Sole Source Aquifer. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency provides this aquifer (geologic sediments that contain groundwater) with a special level of protection. This is the only area in Indiana that receives this special protection.
Like most areas of the country, the many decades of industrial and residential development that have allowed our community to prosper are challenging our ability to maintain the quality of our drinking water. New groundwater quality issues arise each year. In recent years there has been a concentrated effort to protect the areas where our public water companies withdraw groundwater to provide drinking water to our cities and towns. Significant efforts and investments of financial resources have been made by the municipal water departments to protect the groundwater near the locations where they withdraw water for public use. In addition, in response to the requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act which is administered by the U.S. EPA and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, St. Joseph County passed the Wellhead Protection Ordinance (County Code 24.24) and the Board of Health passed the Wellhead Protection Standards and Requirements. The Ordinance and the Standards and Requirements direct the Health Department to take certain actions to protect the drinking water around the areas where we obtain the large volumes of water necessary to supply our cities and towns. These areas are known as Wellhead Protection Areas (WHPAs).
The Wellhead Protection Program provides for the protection of the groundwater in WHPAs by requiring permits for and inspections of any facility that is within a WHPA that also has a threat to the quality of the groundwater, such as a hazardous waste storage area.
The Health Department implements this program by issuing permits, inspecting properties, responding to spills, and working closely with the public water systems and businesses to protect the quality of our public drinking water. Inspections are performed to identify and correct inappropriate operating and maintenance practices, or inadequate record keeping within the facility. The program focuses on preventing contamination of the groundwater rather than cleaning it up.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is this important?
Cleaning up groundwater, once it becomes contaminated, is not the answer to protecting our drinking water quality because cleanup is rarely successful and is always very costly. On average, it is 27 times more costly to clean up contamination than it is to prevent it. Preventing groundwater contamination is the key to maintaining our health and ensuring the County remains a desirable place to live and work.
Is my business in a WHP Area?
WHPAs under the Health Department’s WHP Program cover large portions of South Bend, Lakeville, Mishawaka, Walkerton, North Liberty, and New Carlisle as well as unincorporated areas of the County. WHPAs are usually circular or elliptical in shape and may be several miles in length.
If a business is near a public water well or large water tower, there is a good chance it is in a WHPA. Some businesses have been informed by their public water supply company that they are in a WHPA. If you do not know if your business is in a WHPA, contact your local public water system or the Health Department to find out for sure.
Do I need a Wellhead Protection Permit to operate my business?
Generally, if your business is within a WHPA and you have hazardous materials, petroleum products or dry wells on your property you may need to obtain a permit. However, there are exclusions, exceptions, and special conditions that may affect whether you need a permit.
If a facility has dry wells or any of the following that contain hazardous materials or petroleum products a permit may be needed:
Even if a business is not required to obtain a permit, it is still subject to inspections and must report spills of hazardous materials to the Health Department.
What are the risks of non-compliance?
The greatest risk of not complying with the Ordinance is that our groundwater supply may become contaminated and threaten the health of our residents. Our communities may no longer be considered healthy and desirable places to live and conduct business. We must ensure this does not occur.
No one would intentionally contaminate the groundwater, but sometimes our lack of knowledge or carelessness can be just as damaging. If contaminants do reach the groundwater, the responsible business would be required to pay for the cleanup. The costs can be very high. Failure to comply with the Ordinance may also subject businesses to enforcement action including fines up to $1,500 per day. Our goal is cooperation and compliance. If businesses, public water supplies, and the Health Department work together, we can maintain the quality of our drinking water supplies with minimal impact on business operations.
Where can I get more information?
If you have any questions, need information, or need help in preparing a permit application, call the Health Department at (574) 235-9721 or make an appointment to visit with us.
How can I obtain a WHP permit?
Each business within a WHPA that contains a potential threat to the groundwater must submit a permit application to the Health Department. The application includes a number of questions about what hazardous or regulated materials are present on site and how the business prevents contaminants from getting into the groundwater. A permit fee must be submitted with the application.
The Health Department reviews the application, conducts a thorough site inspection, and works with businesses to develop ways, if necessary, to manage the threats to the groundwater to protect our drinking water. After permits are issued, routine inspections are performed. The Health Department consults with the appropriate public water system throughout this process.
The Health Department encourages any businesses that may need a permit to obtain an application and a briefing package. Electronic and paper copies of all materials are available from the Health Department.