Skip Links

USGS - science for a changing world

Scientific Investigations Report 2011–5197

Prepared in cooperation with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality

Source-Water Susceptibility Assessment in Texas: Approach and Methodology

By Randy L. Ulery, John E. Meyer, Robert W. Andren, and Jeremy K. Newson

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (12.4 MB)Abstract

Public water systems provide potable water for the public’s use. The Safe Drinking Water Act amendments of 1996 required States to prepare a source-water susceptibility assessment (SWSA) for each public water system (PWS). States were required to determine the source of water for each PWS, the origin of any contaminant of concern (COC) monitored or to be monitored, and the susceptibility of the public water system to COC exposure, to protect public water supplies from contamination. In Texas, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) was responsible for preparing SWSAs for the more than 6,000 public water systems, representing more than 18,000 surface-water intakes or groundwater wells. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) worked in cooperation with TCEQ to develop the Source Water Assessment Program (SWAP) approach and methodology. Texas’ SWAP meets all requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act and ultimately provides the TCEQ with a comprehensive tool for protection of public water systems from contamination by up to 247 individual COCs. TCEQ staff identified both the list of contaminants to be assessed and contaminant threshold values (THR) to be applied. COCs were chosen because they were regulated contaminants, were expected to become regulated contaminants in the near future, or were unregulated but thought to represent long-term health concerns. THRs were based on maximum contaminant levels from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s National Primary Drinking Water Regulations. For reporting purposes, COCs were grouped into seven contaminant groups: inorganic compounds, volatile organic compounds, synthetic organic compounds, radiochemicals, disinfection byproducts, microbial organisms, and physical properties.

Expanding on the TCEQ’s definition of susceptibility, subject-matter expert working groups formulated the SWSA approach based on assumptions that natural processes and human activities contribute COCs in quantities that vary in space and time; that increased levels of COC-producing activities within a source area may increase susceptibility to COC exposure; and that natural and manmade conditions within the source area may increase, decrease, or have no observable effect on susceptibility to COC exposure. Incorporating these assumptions, eight SWSA components were defined: identification, delineation, intrinsic susceptibility, point- and nonpoint-source susceptibility, contaminant occurrence, area-of-primary influence, and summary components. Spatial datasets were prepared to represent approximately 170 attributes or indicators used in the assessment process. These primarily were static datasets (approximately 46 gigabytes (GB) in size). Selected datasets such as PWS surface-water-intake or groundwater-well locations and potential source of contamination (PSOC) locations were updated weekly. Completed assessments were archived, and that database is approximately 10 GB in size.

SWSA components currently (2011) are implemented in the Source Water Assessment Program-Decision Support System (SWAP-DSS) computer software, specifically developed to produce SWSAs. On execution of the software, the components work to identify the source of water for the well or intake, assess intrinsic susceptibility of the water- supply source, assess susceptibility to contamination with COCs from point and nonpoint sources, identify any previous detections of COCs from existing water-quality databases, and summarize the results. Each water-supply source’s susceptibility is assessed, source results are weighted by source capacity (when a PWS has multiple sources), and results are combined into a single SWSA for the PWS. SWSA reports are generated using the software; during 2003, more than 6,000 reports were provided to PWS operators and the public. The ability to produce detailed or summary reports for individual sources, and detailed or summary reports for a PWS, by COC or COC group was a unique capability of SWAP-DSS.

In 2004, the TCEQ began a rotating schedule for SWSA wherein one-third of PWSs statewide would be assessed annually, or sooner if protection-program activities deemed it necessary, and that schedule has continued to the present. Cooperative efforts by the TCEQ and the USGS for SWAP software maintenance and enhancements ended in 2011 with the TCEQ assuming responsibility for all tasks.

First posted December 1, 2011

For additional information contact:
Director, Kentucky Water Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey
9818 Bluegrass Parkway
Louisville, KY 40299

Part or all of this report is presented in Portable Document Format (PDF); the latest version of Adobe Reader or similar software is required to view it. Download the latest version of Adobe Reader, free of charge.

Suggested citation:

Ulery, R.L., Meyer, J.E., Andren, R.W., and Newson, J.K., 2011, Source-water susceptibility assessment in Texas—Approach and methodology: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2011–5197, 64 p.





System-Susceptibility Summary Component

SWAP-DSS Software


References Cited


Accessibility FOIA Privacy Policies and Notices logo U.S. Department of the Interior | U.S. Geological Survey
Page Contact Information: Contact USGS
Page Last Modified: Thursday, January 10, 2013, 08:13:14 PM