Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2016PA228B

Rural Drinking Water Education for Underserved Counties of Pennsylvania

Institute: Pennsylvania
Year Established: 2016 Start Date: 2016-03-01 End Date: 2017-02-28
Total Federal Funds: $19,800 Total Non-Federal Funds: $8,554

Principal Investigators: Bryan Swistock

Abstract: Widespread problems with water quality in private water supplies (wells, springs and cisterns serving individual homes) were first reported nationally by Francis and others (1982). Pennsylvania has over three million rural residents using over one million private water wells, springs and cisterns but it is one of the few states lacking statewide location, construction or maintenance standards for private water supplies. Penn State surveys have consistently found that approximately 40% of these water supplies fail at least one health-based drinking water standard but homeowners are generally unaware of these issues and lack appropriate water treatment (Sharpe et al., 1985, Swistock et al., 2013). The absence of statewide regulations along with high contamination rates and low awareness among private water supply owners created a critical need for education that has been addressed by the Penn State Water Resources Extension team. Along with over 200 volunteers from the Master Well Owner Network, they annually educate approximately 10,000 private water supply owners through workshops, individual consultations, and webinars. These educational efforts have also resulted in the analysis of nearly 7,000 groundwater samples at the Penn State Agricultural Analytical Services Laboratory (Penn State AASL). This data is publicly available and has been utilized by about 1,000 groundwater professionals annually as a source of groundwater quality data for most counties (http://agsci.psu.edu/aasl/water-testing/drinking-water-testing/drinking-water-test-summaries). The data is also incorporated into the free H2OSolutions mobile app which has been downloaded by nearly 500 professionals (http://extension.psu.edu/natural-resources/water/drinking-water/h2osolutions). Despite all of these efforts, there are nine “underserved” counties which have been difficult to reach with private water supply education because of the limited number and geographic location of Extension team members and MWON volunteers. Most of the counties also lack any state-accredited water testing laboratories. These counties have over 100,000 homes using private water supplies (U.S. Census Bureau, 1990) but very few groundwater samples (<30 per county) are currently in the Penn State AASL database resulting in less comprehensive groundwater quality information for those counties. This data is used by Penn State Extension educators, water professionals, realtors, and others to guide local water testing recommendations and direct future research. This project seeks to expand private water system education and groundwater data in five underserved counties across the state.