Protecting our Drinking Water

27 September 21

When we turn on the drinking water tap in South Carolina, not much thought goes into where the water comes from. If the water has a different taste or odor, we may pick up the phone to inquire with the water provider, but rarely do we consider where the water begins.

This is a privilege enjoyed by most of us in the southeast. Thankfully, we usually have an abundance of clean water, so considering the source of our drinking water has not been on our minds much. Other regions of the country are not as fortunate, where arid weather conditions keep the source of drinking water in constant thought.

Though quantity of water is not a major concern for us in the Upstate, quality of water should always be considered. High quality water today does not necessarily mean high quality water tomorrow. If we want to ensure quality sources of drinking water for our children and grandchildren, we must be good stewards of the water sources we have now.

For the first-time ever, the American Water Works Association (AWWA) is declaring a national “Source Water Protection Week” from Sep. 26 – Oct. 2 to bring awareness to the value of our drinking water sources.

“AWWA and many other organizations at the federal, state and local level recognize the need to join forces to advance the protection of limited drinking water at the source,” says AWWA president Chi Ho Sham. “This includes sharing tools and information, collecting data, supporting assessment and protection plans and encouraging upstream entities to take on shared responsibility.”[1]

Dozens of utilities and organizations have already partnered together for watershed protection plans throughout South Carolina, and especially here in the upstate[2]. The plans are funded by grants from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC). Once a watershed plan is approved, property owners may receive up to 60% cost-share funding for qualifying projects implemented within the plan that contribute to protecting our drinking water sources.[3]

These plans and implementations are helpful, but it will take all of us committing to care for our own backyards, neighborhoods, and local environments to preserve and protect the water resources we currently enjoy in the upstate. Consistent, small habits are the easiest way to accomplish this.

Clean water doesn’t happen by accident, and residents of the Upstate have benefitted from the tireless efforts of leaders and organizations committed to ensuring we have plentiful clean water for future generations. Having clean water supports our quality of life and a vibrant economy. That’s why diverse stakeholders are joining forces in this effort.

One example is the Lake Hartwell Partners for Clean Water, a new collaboration between the Anderson Area Chamber of Commerce, drinking water utilities, Clemson University and Cooperative Extension, Duke Energy, Upstate Forever, SC State Parks, Anderson County Stormwater and Soil & Water, the US Army Corps of Engineers, and SCDHEC. This group is planning cost-effective solutions to protect a critical drinking water source, which will include education as everyone’s responsibility to protecting water resources.

One of the main threats to water quality is stormwater runoff, the water that runs off land after a rainfall event picking up pollutants as it flows.[4] Each of us contributes to this and small changes can make a meaningful difference. Overall, preventing pesticides, fertilizers, and other pollutants from leaving your property is critical.

There are many ways to approach this – don’t apply these materials before a rain event and use only what is needed by getting specific recommendations through adequate soil testing.[5] Install plants native to SC to reduce fertilizer, irrigation, and other maintenance requirements. Follow all rules when using chemicals and store them in a way that contains spills or leaks.

Our soils can easily erode and end up overloading our waterways with sediment (this is what’s happening when our streams turn orange/red during and after rain events!). Covering bare soil with vegetation or mulch can prevent this from happening – and keep your topsoil in place!

All of us must work together to protect our drinking water for the future. Being unified in our understanding that what happens upstream affects everything downstream is paramount. Anything we put on the ground eventually ends up in our mouth via stormwater runoff into local streams and lakes. Please do your part!


Trey Burns

Sustainability Manager

Anderson Regional Joint Water System


Heather B. Nix

Upstate Region Water Resources Agent

Clemson University Cooperative Extension


[1] “AWWA Launching new Source Water Protection Week” <,protecting%20precious%20drinking%20water%20sources.>

[2] “DHEC Funded Watershed-Based Plans” <>

[3] “Watershed-Based Plan Implementation (319) Grants” <>

[4] “Soak Up the Rain: What’s the Problem” <>

[5] “Soil Testing” <>