This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Exploration of groundwater knowledge and private well programs across the United States




Foust, Bethany

Type of Degree

Master's Thesis



Restriction Status


Restriction Type

Auburn University Users

Date Available



Groundwater serves one third of the United States (US) population as their main source of drinking water. Groundwater accessed from private wells serves about 15% of the population. Private well water is not regulated by the federal government, and less than half of states regulate private well water quality. Thus, the responsibility of management falls on the private well owner. Management involves many facets such as knowledge about well type, well depth, local hydrogeology, local landcover and land use, and how and when to test water quality. These factors contribute to water quality and may be difficult to find information about, furthermore implementing management may be arduous. Well stewardship, a form of management, is a way for well owners to learn about their wells and well water. Well stewardship includes annual testing of water quality and can be facilitated in many ways. One way stewardship is encouraged is through outreach, like private well programs (PWPs). PWPs utilize educational materials like online resources and handbooks as well as educational events like workshops and webinars lead by well water professionals to aid well owners in making management decisions. Previous researchers have evaluated barriers to well stewardship and effective methods for outreach PWPs to promote stewardship. However, there is no central resource about PWPs across the US. Therefore, the first objective of this study was to create an inventory and webmap of PWPs and resources across the US, and to identify areas that may need resources. Methods similar to a literature review were utilized, and search terms were generated and conducted on all 50 states and data was collected about programs and resources. In addition, few studies have used a mixed methods approach to understand how PWPs affect knowledge about groundwater. Without knowledge about groundwater and stewardship, well owners may not be aware of potential risks and ways to prevent them. Thus, the second objective of this study was to deploy the Groundwater Concept Inventory (GWCI) to a well owner population to explore the differences in knowledge between well owners who participated in PWPs and those who did not. Statistical analysis revealed a significant difference between respondent’s groundwater knowledge. Then, program coordinators of PWPs were interviewed to elucidate how programs engage with well owners using thematic coding. Our results show that 64% of states had an established PWP and that 72% of PWPs are housed in Cooperative Extension. Results also found that 18% of states had no programs or resources ( This could be due to a small well owner population in the state or regulation in the state. The second objective results shows that private well owners that participated with a PWP had more groundwater knowledge than well owners that had not participated (t-Test = 2.18; p = 0.038), leading us to deduce that PWPs do result in more knowledge. Results from thematic analysis of interviews found four themes: Program Establishment, Program Purpose, Engagement, and Testing. The most common advice from interviewees was for well owners to test their well water, which PWPs can help with. The findings from these studies can be useful to program coordinators to connect with other states and develop programs in states without PWP. In addition, we encourage funding, access, and awareness of PWPs.