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Designated Sole Source Aquifers in Region 5

Mahomet Sole Source Aquifer - EPA Seeks Comments on Proposed Sole Source Aquifer Designation

Designated Sole Source Quifers in Region 5

State Sole Source Aquifer Name Federal Reg. Cit FR Date Map
IN St. Joseph Aquifer 53 FR 23682 06/23/88 PDF (1pp, 174KB)
MN Mille Lacs Aquifer 55 FR 43407 10/29/90 PDF (1pp, 154KB)
OH Allen County Combined Aquifer 57 FR 53111 11/06/92 PDF (1pp, 168KB)
OH Bass Island Aquifer (Catawba Island) 52 FR 37009 10/02/87 PDF (1pp, 131KB)
OH Great Miami Buried Valley Aquifer 53 FR 15876
53 FR 25670


PDF (1pp, 225KB)
OH Pleasant City Aquifer 52 FR 32342 08/27/87 PDF (1pp, 140KB)

Suspended Petition:
Designation of the Michindoh Glacial Aquifer Sole Source Aquifer (City of Bryan, Ohio) has been suspended indefinitely.

Sole Source Aquifer Protection Program Project Review

  • Designated Sole Source Aquifers Region 5 map (PDF) (1pg, 556KB)
  • Areas of Concern - Project Overview
  • Questions and Answers about Sole Source Aquifers
  • Petitioners' Guidance - Link to Region 2
  • Areas of Concern Sole Source Aquifer Protection Program Resources

    If an SSA designation is approved, proposed federal financially-assisted projects which have the potential to contaminate the aquifer are subject to EPA review. Proposed projects that are funded entirely by state, local, or private concerns are not subject to EPA review. Examples of federally funded projects which have been reviewed by EPA under the SSA Protection Program include; highway improvements and new road construction, public water supply wells and transmission lines, wastewater treatment facilities, construction projects that involve disposal of storm water, agricultural projects that involve management of animal waste, and projects funded through Community Development Block Grants.

    Most projects referred to EPA for review meet all federal, state, and local ground water protection standards and are approved without any additional conditions being imposed. Occasionally, site- or project-specific concerns for ground water quality protection lead to specific recommendations or additional pollution prevention requirements as a condition of funding. In rare cases, federal funding has been denied when the applicant has been either unwilling or unable to modify the project.

    Whenever feasible, EPA coordinates the review of proposed projects with other offices within EPA and with various federal, state, or local agencies that have a responsibility for ground water quality protection. Relevant information from these sources is given full consideration in the sole source aquifer review process and helps EPA to understand local hydrogeologic conditions and specific project design concerns. Project review coordination also helps ensure that SSA protection measures support or enhance existing ground water protection efforts, rather than duplicate them.

    The following are common issues of concern which may have the potential to impact ground water quality:

    1. Stormwater Treatment and Disposal Practices - All federally funded projects that may generate, increase, collect, or dispose of storm or surface water runoff from impervious surfaces, e.g., parking lots, roadways, roof tops, must use Best Management Practices (BMPs) to design all stormwater treatment and disposal systems. In addition, the use of shallow injection wells, i.e., dry wells, french drains, sumps, and drainfields, must be avoided whenever possible.

    2. Shallow Injection Wells - In those cases where stormwater treatment and disposal systems must utilize a shallow injection well, the project proponent must (1) notify and register the shallow injection well with the appropriate State Underground Injection Control (UIC) Program, (2) ensure that the shallow injection well(s) does not dispose any fluids that do not meet the State's Ground Water Quality Standards, and (3) pay any applicable fees for registering the shallow injection wells.

    3. Sanitary Waste - Whenever feasible, a project should be connected to the Publicly Owned Treatment Works (POTW), i.e., the sewage treatment plant. In cases where connections to a POTW cannot be made, onsite sewage disposal systems can be utilized if (1) the appropriate State or local health department or district is notified and a permit is issued, and if applicable (2) the appropriate State UIC Program should also be notified if the onsite sewage system is designed to treat and dispose of equal to or more than 2000 gallons per day.

    In addition, in facilities that do not have connections to a POTW, garage bay and other floor/shop drains should not be connected to an onsite sewage system. Best Management Practices should be utilized to provide an alternative to installing garage bay and other drains, e.g., sloped garage bay and holding tanks. For more information on protection measures for onsite sanitary waste treatment and disposal, please contact your State or local health department.

    4. Potable Water - Whenever feasible, connections to a community water supply should be made. In cases where connections to a community water system cannot be made, a private well may be used to supply potable water if (1) the appropriate State or local health department or district is notified, (2) the water should be tested for contaminants, such as bacteria and nitrate, and (3) all applicable pollution prevention techniques should be used to protect the private well from contamination. For more information on protection measures for users of private wells, please contact your State or local health department.

    5. Underground Storage Tanks - All underground storage tanks (UST) systems must meet at a minimum the performance standards as specified in Volume 40 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Part 280, Subpart B of the Federal UST Regulations. These performance standards include tank and pipe design and construction, spill, and overfill equipment operating specifications, and proper installation procedures which must be followed. In addition, all UST systems must at a minimum (1) register the tank(s) with EPA or the appropriate State UST Program by completing the Notification for Underground Storage Tanks Form, (2) be in accordance with Subpart D of the Federal UST Regulations where leak detection must be performed once petroleum products are added to the tanks, (3) obtain an approved financial responsibility mechanism, in accordance with Subpart H of the Federal UST regulations, prior to putting the UST system into service. This mechanism will ensure that clean-up funds will be made available if/when needed to mitigate ground and drinking water or soil contamination

    6. Community Water System Improvement - For community water systems that are requesting federal financial assistance for new improved water systems, EPA recommends that the applicant develop and implement a source water protection plan.  Interested applicants that have not done so should contact their applicable State Source Water Protection program for more information.

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    Questions and Answers about Sole Source Aquifers

    Q: What is a sole source aquifer?
    A sole source aquifer (SSA) is an underground water supply designated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as the "sole or principal source” of drinking water for an area.

    Q: What gives EPA the authority to designate these aquifers?
    A: The program was established under Section 1424(e) the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974. Although EPA can designate sole source aquifers on its own, agency policy is to make designations only in response to formal requests or "petitions" that contain sufficient technical information to evaluate whether the aquifer meets EPA's designation criteria.

    Q: How many SSA’s are there?
    As of June 2013, there are 80 SSA’s listed on EPA Regional Office websites nationwide. In Region 5, there are six SSAs: one in Indiana, one in Minnesota, and four in Ohio. There are no designated SSAs in the Illinois, Michigan, or Wisconsin.

    Q: What criteria have to be met for a designation?
    Based on the statutory language, major criteria to be considered by EPA are whether the aquifer is the sole or principal source of drinking water and whether contamination of the aquifer would create a significant hazard to public health. EPA has further interpreted “sole or principal source” to mean that the aquifer must supply at least 50 percent of the drinking water to persons living over the aquifer, and that there should be no alternate and feasible sources of drinking water that could replace the aquifer. In addition, aquifer boundaries should be delineated based on sound science and the best available information. Petitions may be submitted for entire aquifers, aquifer systems (hydrogeologically connected aquifers), or part of an aquifer, if that part is hydrogeologically separate from the rest of the aquifer.

    Q: If aquifers are under the land surface and can't be seen, how can the boundaries be defined?
    Characterizing ground water resources is often difficult. Aquifer boundaries can be based on various factors such as the extent of aquifer materials, geologic structures, and/or ground water recharge or discharge areas. Hydrogeologists must rely on the best available data from relevant ground water studies and professional judgment when evaluating aquifer boundaries.

    Q: Can the public participate in EPA's designation decision process?
    Yes, the public can participate by attending EPA public meetings or hearings, or by providing written comments to EPA during a formal comment period. This part of the process offers the public an opportunity to learn about local water resources and provide valuable information which will help EPA make an informed designation decision. While EPA takes interest in public opinion either for or against designation, the Safe Drinking Water Act requires that the decision to designate a SSA should be ultimately based on EPA’s analysis of the scientific and economic data presented.

    Q: What happens after a sole source aquifer is designated?
    According to the Safe Drinking Water Act, projects that are to receive "federal financial assistance" and which have the potential to contaminate the aquifer "so as to create a significant hazard to public health" are subject to EPA review and approval. EPA does not monitor all federal funding activities, but rather, relies on federal funding agencies to screen projects they fund and forward any which could potentially pose a significant threat to public health to EPA for review. Following aquifer designation, EPA Region 5 contacts federal funding agencies in the SSA area and establishes a Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) with them. The MOU is an agreement which helps federal funding agencies decide whether or not to send a project to EPA for review. A typical MOU identifies criteria the federal funding agency will use to select eligible projects for EPA review, defines the scope of EPA’s review, sets a limit on the length of time EPA will have for its review, and identifies agency contact information.

    Q: What is the definition of "federal financial assistance"?
    Section 1424(e) of the Safe Drinking Water Act defines federal financial assistance as “a grant, contract, loan guarantee, or otherwise” from any department or agency of the federal government or passed through federal grants, contracts, loan guarantees, or other federal funding from its local, regional, or state funding agents. Federal financial assistance does not include actions or programs carried out directly by the federal government.

    Q: Does EPA review state, local, or privately funded projects?
    No. EPA only reviews projects which receive some kind of financial support from the federal government and are screened by federal funding agencies as having met the criteria identified in the MOU.

    Q: Under what circumstances would EPA ask for additional conditions before approving federal funding?
    EPA would ask for changes to a project only when it would pose a threat to public health by contaminating an aquifer to the point where a safe drinking water standard could be exceeded. Occasionally, weak ground water protection standards, poor project design, or site-specific concerns for ground water quality lead to specific EPA recommendations or requirements. However, if EPA decides that a particular project might harm public health, the funding applicant has the opportunity to modify the project. EPA can help by providing advice or technical assistance to the federal funding agency, project engineer, and funding applicant on just what must be done to make a project safe.
    Whenever feasible, EPA coordinates project reviews with various federal, state, and local agencies that have a responsibility for ground water quality protection. This helps everyone involved learn more about the project, local aquifer hydrogeology, and the latest ground water protection tools and pollution prevention techniques available. This coordination helps ensure that any EPA reviews will enhance or support, rather than duplicate, existing ground water protection efforts.

    Q: Has EPA ever denied federal funding to a project?
    Based on a search of its project review records, Region 5 EPA has never denied federal funding for a project. Nationally, some denials have occurred. When it finds project deficiencies, EPA’s policy is to encourage applicants to modify the project design to minimize impacts to groundwater. Applicants are typically willing to make modifications and often the solution does not require significant project delays or increased costs. Project denial occurs only if the applicant is unwilling or unable to make design modifications.

    Q: If EPA denies federal funding, does that mean that the project cannot be built?
    No. It simply means that the applicant cannot use federal funds to construct the project. The project can still be built if the applicant is able to finance the project from other funding sources.

    Q: What about projects that have received federal funding prior to the aquifer being designated. Will such projects be reviewed under the SSA protection program?
    No. Project reviews under the SSA protection program are not retroactive. Any project where the funding was approved prior to a designation is not subject to review. However, if additional federal funds are requested to modify or expand the same project, that part which was proposed after the designation date could be evaluated.

    Q: Doesn't the SSA protection program just add more "red tape" to the federal funding process?
    No. EPA uses MOUs to efficiently review projects usually within 2 weeks after they are received. Using the MOU, federal funding agencies are able to avoid the EPA review for the majority of the projects they fund. Only those projects which meet MOU criteria are referred to EPA. No additional time is needed, since EPA’s review can happen concurrently with reviews performed by other federal government agencies. MOU’s typically limit EPA’s review time to 30 days and allow funding to be approved if EPA does not respond.

    Q: What are some examples of projects that EPA typically reviews and what agencies fund them?
    EPA has reviewed major highway improvement projects (USDOT - Federal Highway Administration); new transit centers and park-and-ride lots (USDOT - Federal Transit Administration); public water supply improvements, wastewater treatment facilities (USDA Rural Development Authority); and housing subdivisions and other building construction projects that are not served by public water, sewer, and storm water drainage systems (Department of Housing and Urban Development and USDA - Rural Development). EPA does not review practices or programs funded through USDA subsidies to local farmers that would result in environmental benefit. Section 1424(e) limits EPA review to federally-funded projects which have the potential to contaminate the aquifer "so as to create a significant hazard to public health".

    Q: Does EPA review federally-assisted home mortgage loans, such as those offered through the VA or FHA?
    EPA generally would not get involved if a private citizen were to seek such a loan to build a single family dwelling. However, EPA could get involved in reviewing a cluster of homes that were federally-assisted if they would collectively pose a threat to ground water quality. Unfortunately, there is no "magic number" when a collection of homes begins to pose a threat. This must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis and depends on several factors including local soil and geology, depth to ground water, density of the homes, and the type of water, sewage and storm water systems proposed. These factors help to estimate the volume and characteristics of pollutant sources, potential pathways to the aquifer, and thus possible impacts to public health.

    Q: To what extent does EPA review agricultural projects?
    EPA's role regarding agriculture and the SSA Program has traditionally been to coordinate with the USDA funding agency to ensure that existing federal, state, and local ground water quality measures are being followed. EPA may ask the funding agency to make sure that the applicant is aware of, and follows, the most appropriate agricultural management practices which are feasible.

    For example, livestock operations seeking federal loans for herd expansions could be reviewed to ensure that adequate animal waste management facilities are first in place to handle the additional waste and that any applicable permits or state guidelines are followed. Agricultural operations that seek federal funds for filter strips and other best management practices often do so to "improve" existing practices or facilities, which benefits water quality and helps protect public health. These types of projects are not reviewed by EPA.

    Q: Will SSA designation limit economic development?
    There is no evidence that SSA has significantly delayed or impaired local economic development in any of the SSAs which have been designated nationwide since the program was authorized by Congress in 1974. In fact, some communities see designation as economically beneficial, and they refer to the SSA designation as proof of their commitment to high quality water resources which they use to attract business to the area.

    Q: Given potential restrictions on projects, does SSA designation present an “unfunded mandate” or give EPA control over local land-use decisions and private property use?
    No. The SSA Protection Program does not give EPA any enforcement authority over local land use decisions or practices. EPA’s authority is limited to a review of those projects where applicants apply for federal funding assistance to install components or employ practices which could pose a significant health risk to the local water resource.

    Q: Won't a SSA designation lead to increased environmental regulation from state government?
    Some state environmental regulations do require more stringent design in SSA areas, which makes some additional State oversight necessary to ensure that these criteria are satisfied. This most often occurs with solid waste landfill siting and expansion. However, even if there was no SSA designation in such areas, it would still make environmental and economic sense for the most stringent designs to be built into such projects. Keeping pollution out of water sources is much less costly than having to treat them once they become contaminated.

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