by Vicky Binetti
This year, members of the Potomac River Drinking Water Source Protection Partnership are marking the tenth anniversary of their 2004 partnership resolution. I recall the excitement as water utilities from the middle Potomac, and federal, interstate and state government representatives signed a giant version of the partnership’s framework document at Little Seneca Reservoir in Maryland, pledging to work together to protect the quality of the Nation’s River, the source of drinking water for more than 5 million people.
On that September day, our aspirations were high: to develop a unified voice for the protection of drinking water sources, provide a forum to enhance understanding of important water quality issues, and build a team to coordinate action on priority concerns. Over the past 10 years, partnership members have joined forces to conduct unique sampling studies for pathogens and emerging contaminants. We’ve conducted workshops on runoff of salt-laden stormwater from winter storms; on the potential risks posed by newly recognized contaminants, and ways to reduce their presence in water supplies; and on the potential for nutrient pollution from agricultural and urban sources to contribute to harmful algal blooms. We’ve developed coordinated early warning systems and emergency response strategies; conducted exercises to simulate real disasters; and shared lessons learned and contingencies planned in dealing with floods, droughts and power failures. We’ve examined the success and value of land conservation efforts in the basin, and probed the simple elegance of how forested lands protect downstream water quality.
After a decade in partnership, our experience tells us that even as our understanding has increased, challenges remain. As our population has grown, and land and water use have become more intense, the need for safeguarding sources of our water supply remains a priority. Whatever challenges lie ahead, this partnership will build upon a foundation of strong science and collaboration.
So, in this same year that we’re celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Safe Drinking Water Act, let’s also raise a toast – with tap water, of course – to 10 years of protecting the Potomac River.
About the author: Vicky Binetti is Associate Director of EPA Region 3’s Water Protection Division, with responsibilities including public drinking water system compliance, source water protection and underground injection control in the mid-Atlantic states. At home in southern New Jersey, Vicky is a member of the Environmental Commission and Open Space Advisory Committee.