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Source water protection is a management approach used to protect public drinking water sources against contamination and overuse. This may include both surface water (rivers, lakes or streams) and underground aquifers. Identifying potential sources of contamination is an important initial step to establish sustainable management plans that ensure a long-term supply of clean water. Identifying and protecting natural sources of good water quality, such as forests, wetlands and riparian buffers, is equally important in this context.
Source water protection entails management and policy measures that restrict overuse and pollution of water at its source, and may include regulations (e.g. water allocation quotas, water quality compliance regulations), compensation schemes (e.g. payments to industrial or agricultural users to reduce use of pollutants or extraction volumes, payments for ecosystem services schemes) or conservation measures in the upstream watershed. Plans are often designed in close collaboration with local communities, for example through education and awareness programs or new local governance structures.