Unit 7

Unit SevenResidential Water Systems


Importance to Advanced Master Gardener – Water Program Managers


Residential water systems include public and private water supply systems and onsite wastewater systems such as septic and alternative systems. Community needs regarding these systems involve water quality and quantity for both public health and safety. Residential onsite waste systems are significant in number across Virginia and the potential for surface and groundwater contamination is high. Private water supplied by wells, cisterns and springs are a concern from a public health perspective for contaminants and for availability of sufficient quantities of water, and abandoned wells are a safety concern. Landscape practices may adversely affect water quality and quantity: potential contamination of surface and groundwater eventually supplied to the public may require treatment, and irrigation of landscapes may deplete supplies.


“Estimated Use of Water in the United States: County-Level Data for 2005. 2014. U.S. Department of the Interior, US Geological Survey. Accessed November 17, 2014. http://water.usgs.gov/watuse/data/2005/.


Policies Regarding Residential Water Systems


Compared to western states, Virginia seemingly has an abundant water supply most years. However, water usage estimates indicate growth and weather may threaten supplies at times. During drought years, restrictions may be placed on lawn watering, car washing, etc. Local governments have asked for voluntary limits on showers, and severe drought has caused communities to limit business uses such as restaurants and car washes and place caps on development.


Virginia’s water comes from a variety of sources, and protection of those sources is crucial. The Safe Drinking Water Act addresses treatment to bring water to health-based standards but also mandates source water protection. Protection of source water from contaminants such as those in runoff or subsurface transport provide programming opportunities for Advanced Master Gardeners. 


Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is responsible for meeting federal requirements of the Clean Water Act (CWA) and the state mandates of the State Water Control Law. The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) is the legal authority for the Virginia Public Water Supply Law and the Safe Drinking Water Act.


Protections of source waters for public drinking water supplies intersect with the CWA Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) for surface waters. There are no similar protections of private water sources. There are programs for wellhead protection and VDH regulates septic systems for number and size, siting and maintenance standards. Testing is recommended but is not required.


U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Water. 2004. “Understanding the Safe Drinking Water Act” EPA 816-F-04-030. Public domain. Accessed September 8, 2016. https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-04/documents/epa816f04030.pdf.

sdwa-1 sdwa-2 sdwa-3 sdwa-4

Virginia Department of Health. 2014. “Laws and Regulations.” Accessed September 8, 2016. http://www.vdh.virginia.gov/drinking-water/laws-regulations.


Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. 2014. “Water Laws, Regulations and Guidance.” Accessed September 8, 2016. http://www.deq.virginia.gov/Programs/Water/Laws,Regulations,Guidance.aspx.

 Onsite Wastewater Systems

 Because of the interrelationship between ground water and surface water, it is possible for contamination to migrate from nonfunctioning onsite waste disposal systems to wells. According to VDH in 2011, there are about one million onsite sewage systems in Virginia, and another 15,000 come on line each year. It is estimated that these systems discharge about 82.5 billion gallons of septic effluent into the soil each year.

 If this is a need in the local community, the Advanced Master Gardener – Water Program Manager will need to understand septic system operation and maintenance. Knowing the public health and environmental impacts of nutrients leaching from septic systems will assist the Water Manager in changing public behaviors.

 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 2014. “Septic (Onsite/Decentralized) Systems.” Accessed September 8, 2016. https://www.epa.gov/septic/learn-about-septic-systems.

 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 2014. “SepticSmart Home.” Accessed September 8, 2016. https://www.epa.gov/septic/septicsmart-homeowners. December 21, 2014.

Virginia Department of Health. 2014. “How Systems Work.” Accessed November 17, 2014. http://www.vdh.virginia.gov/EnvironmentalHealth/Onsite/howsystemsworks/.

 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 2016. “Septic Systems Outreach Toolkit.” Accessed September 8, 2016. https://www.epa.gov/septic/septic-systems-outreach-toolkit.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 2016. “Do your Part – Be SepticSmart! A Homeowner’s Guide to Septic Systems.” Public domain. Accessed September 8, 2016. https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-01/documents/tribal-septicsmart_homeowners_guide_508_v_02_0.pdf.

septic-1 septic-2 septic-3 septic-4 septic-5 septic-6 septic-7 septic-8


Drinking Water Supplies


It goes without saying that a safe supply of drinking water is crucial for human health. Public drinking water supplies are regulated by federal and state laws, protecting source water and ensuring treatment to remove potential contaminants. The EPA lists almost 90 contaminants that have the potential of affecting human health. Requirements exist for the testing and reporting of public water supplies.

Private drinking water supplied from wells, springs or cisterns do not have the same regulations, protections or requirements. Achieving health standards for homes with private water supplies requires voluntary testing and compliance. Because more than 1.7 million people in Virginia depend on private water supplies, this area may be a community need that Advanced Master Gardener programming may fill.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 2016. “Ground Water and Drinking Water.” Accessed September 8, 2016. http://water.epa.gov/drink.

Virginia Department of Health, Office of Drinking Water. 2016. “Drinking Water.” Accessed September 8, 2016. http://www.vdh.virginia.gov/drinking-water.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 2009. “Table of Drinking Water Contaminants.” Accessed September 8, 2016.



Private Water Supplies (Wells)

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 2013. “Private Wells: Basic Information.” Accessed September 8, 2016. https://www.epa.gov/privatewells.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2009. “Well Siting and Potential Contaminants.” Accessed September 8, 2016. http://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/drinking/private/wells/location.html.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “About Private Water Wells.” 2016. Accessed September 8, 2016. https://www.epa.gov/privatewells/about-private-water-wells.

National Ground Water Association. 2016. “Water Well Maintenance.” Accessed September 8, 2016. http://www.wellowner.org/water-well-maintenance.

Virginia Cooperative Extension. No date. “Virginia Household Water Quality Program.” Accessed November 17, 2014. http://www.wellwater.bse.vt.edu/vahwqp.php.

Virginia Cooperative Extension. No date. “Virginia Well Owner Network.” Accessed September 8, 2016. http://www.wellwater.bse.vt.edu/files/vwon-1115-press.pdf.

vmwo-1 vmwo-2

Public Water Supplies

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 2016. “Introduction to EPA’s Drinking Water Source Protection Programs.” 2003. US Environmental Protection Agency: 6-9, 14, 18-22. Accessed September 8, 2016. https://cfpub.epa.gov/watertrain/module.cfm?module_id=40&object_id=765.

“Source Water Protection Program.” 2014. Virginia Department of Health, Office of Drinking Water. Accessed September 8, 2016. http://www.vdh.virginia.gov/drinking-water/source-water-programs/source-water-protection-program.


As was discussed in the unit on the relationship among plants, soils and water, multiple factors are weighed in the decision to add supplemental water to the landscape. Irrigating landscapes may be done by hand watering or sprinklers moved about the yard, but landowners may opt for irrigation systems. Irrigation systems are a convenience that may make the difference in a healthy landscape and one that requires disease or insect treatment or even results in plant death and erosion if re-vegetation does not take place.

When irrigation is not monitored, there is a potential for runoff. Automatic irrigation may not take into account soil characteristics; plant seasonal water use, root depth or growth stage; or even recent rainfall duration or amount. A lack of system maintenance also presents the potential for saturation, waste and runoff.

Wilson, C.R., and D. Whiting, Kurt Jones, reviewer. 2014. “Operating and Maintaining a Home Irrigation System.” Colorado State University Extension, http://www.ext.colostate.edu. Reprinted with permission in Unit 5. Accessed September 8, 2016. http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/garden/07239.pdf.


Water Conservation

 Conserving water around the home is one strategy for ensuring an adequate supply of water. Master Gardeners are well-versed in grouping plants of similar water needs, capturing water onsite with rain gardens, rain barrels and swales. Public education of such strategies as well as conservation tips may allow the Advanced Master Gardener to fulfill local needs.

Federal Emergency Management Agency.  “Appendix A: Water Conservation Tips.” In Are You Ready? An In-depth Guide to Citizen Preparedness, 191-193. Public domain. Accessed November 7, 2014. http://training.fema.gov/emiweb/downloads/IS22/AppendixA.pdf.