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Dealing With Poor Drinking Water Quality In Private Wells: The Effectiveness Of A Communication Strategy In Influencing Behavioural Change.

World Water Congress 2015 Edinburgh Scotland
11. Key vulnerabilities and security risks
Author(s): Darragh Page
Margaret Keegan

Darragh Page, Margaret Keegan
Environmental Protection Angency

Keyword(s): Sub-theme 11: Key vulnerabilities and security risks,
Article: Oral:


Significant improvements in the quality of drinking water supplied by public water supplies and community run group water schemes have been documented in successive EPA reports on the Provision and Quality of Drinking Water. These reports show a 90% reduction in incidents of E. coli contamination in public and group water schemes since 2005. These improvements have not been mirrored in private single house supplies. Studies indicate that around 30% of private wells are contaminated (EPA, 2010) and that the level of illness linked to private supplies has increased (e.g. there was a 100% increase in VTEC cases between 2011 and 2012 and a further 30% increase in 2013 (www.hpsc.ie). VTEC patients were up to 4 times more likely to have consumed water from private wells. Private wells are unregulated in Ireland and well owners are largely unaware of the risks associated with their water supply and many are under the assumption that they are consuming "pure" water because it originates from groundwater. The EPA developed communication tools and a communication strategy to educate well owners - to make them aware of the risk and inform them of the actions they should take to reduce the risk. These tools included an animation, infographic, self-assessment web application and detailed website to communicate with the target audience. A comprehensive communication strategy involving many different stakeholders and communications methods was implemented to reach the widest possible audience. The effectiveness of this strategy was measured using a series of metrics measuring both awareness of the campaign and behavioural change to determine what worked and could be applied to other communications. The anticipated outcomes measured were as follows: * Increased awareness of the risks by well owners; * Remedial works undertaken by well owners to protect public health; * Reduced incidences of illness associated with private wells; * Greater environmental protection (through reduction in polluting activities); * Improved industry standards (well construction and treatment). This paper will provide an outline of the communication strategy and its effectiveness including the lessons learnt for future communications with stakeholders. 1. EPA (2010) Water quality in Ireland 2007-2009. Office of Environmental Assessment, EPA, Wexford, Ireland. 2. EPA (2013) The Provision and Quality of Drinking Water in Ireland - A Report for the year 2012. Office of Environmental Enforcement, EPA, Wexford, Ireland. 3. EPA (2013) Advice Note No 14: Borehole Construction and Wellhead Protection. Office of Environmental Enforcement, EPA, Wexford, Ireland. 4. HPSC website - http://www.hpsc.ie/A-Z/Gastroenteric/VTEC/VTECandwater/ 5. Hynds, P (2012) Private wells in Ireland: A quantitative assessment of groundwater quality, consumer awareness, contamination susceptibility and human health risk. PhD Thesis, Trinity College Dublin. 6. Schultz, J. (2011), Developing Advocacy Strategy. The Democracy Center. http://democracyctr.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/Advocacy-Strategy.pdf

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