Our HEC Green Business partner, Mundell & Associates, works with municipalities to assess potential risks to groundwater contamination from business operations including agriculture, industrial and commercial sites that are located in public drinking water wellfields. While the post below details their work on wellfield protection in Marion County, the concepts and program structures can also be applied to other locales.

Did you know that the public water utilities in Marion County, Indiana rely on groundwater to supply 25% of its drinking water to its almost one million residents? While groundwater is a great resource, much of the land overlying this important groundwater is used for business and industrial purposes which presents the potential for groundwater contamination to occur. Almost 1,000 businesses located in Marion County wellfields have been identified as potential groundwater contaminant sources, including gas stations, dry cleaners and industrial sites. Marion County currently has three interconnected programs in place for comprehensive wellfield protection: the Marion County Wellfield Education Corporation (MCWEC), the Wellfield Protection Zoning Ordinance from the City of Indianapolis, and the Wellfield Protection Health Code  from the Marion County Public Health Department.

  • MCWEC (www.mcwec.org) was founded in 1996 and provides free voluntary assistance to businesses located in wellfields on topics including safe chemical storage, chemical and waste handling, and the use of spill kits to clean up any spills safely.  
  • The Wellfield Zoning Ordinance of the City of Indianapolis (enacted in 1996), requires new construction located in the wellfields to undergo review by a qualified professional. This program allows for wellfield protections to be built into new construction projects from the start.  
  • The Marion County Public Health Department (MCPHD) introduced a Wellfield Protection Health Code in 2017 that applies to all existing businesses in wellfields. This code is modeled on the City Wellfield Zoning Ordinance and requires business operations (such as spill plans) that will reduce the threat of groundwater contamination.

A particular focus of all three of these programs is making sure that stored chemicals have adequate secondary containment to prevent spills from leaking containers, and requiring the adoption of spill prevention plans and the use of spill kits. Over 400 new construction permits have undergone review with the City Wellfield Protection Ordinance, and the MCPHD is now inspecting hundreds of businesses across the wellfields for their Wellfield Health Code. The MCWEC program, in addition to providing assistance to businesses, also performs an annual survey of business in the wellfields, which is compiled along with regulatory data in a report that is used by Marion County utilities as part of their wellhead protection plans.

This three-pronged approach to county-wide wellfield protection can also serve as a model for other counties looking to improve their wellfield protection approach. While Indiana state law requires a wellhead protection plan to be submitted to the state for all community public water systems, at the county level Indiana is a patchwork when it comes to wellfield protection approaches. Some counties have wellfield protection coded into their county ordinance, but many do not, leaving it up to individual municipalities to tackle the issue. This can be a problem if city wellfields cross city or even county boundaries. Instituting a county-level wellfield protection ordinance can help set standards and expectations at a county scale and bring more uniformity to the protection of important groundwater resources. Co-ordination and co-operation between adjacent counties whose wellfields overlap each other can help share the work of protecting groundwater and encourage common approaches to ensure that all wellfields are equally protected.