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Risk communication represents the optimal instrument for decreasing the incidence of private groundwater contamination and associated waterborne illnesses. However, despite attempts to promote voluntary well maintenance in high groundwater-reliant regions such as the Republic of Ireland, awareness levels of supply status (e.g. structural integrity) have remained low. As investigations of supply awareness are often thematically narrow and homogeneous with respect to sub-population, revised analyses of awareness among both current and future supply owners (i.e. adults of typical well owner and student age) are necessary. Accordingly, the current study utilised a national survey of well users and an age-based comparison of supply awareness. Awareness was measured among 560 Irish private well users using a multi-domain scoring framework and analysed in conjunction with experiential variables including experience of extreme weather events and previous household infections, and perceived self-efficacy in maintaining supply. Respondents displayed a median overall awareness score of 66.7%, with supply owners (n = 399) and students (n = 161) exhibiting median scores of 75% and 58.3%. Awareness among both combined respondent subsets and well owners was significantly related to gender, well use factors and self-perceived behavioural efficacy while awareness among students was not correlated with any independent variable. Cluster analysis identified three distinct respondent groups characterised by awareness score and gender in both current and future well owner subsets. Male well owners and students displayed higher perceived self-efficacy irrespective of awareness score while female well owners that demonstrated high awareness were significantly more likely to report postgraduate educational (p < 0.001). Findings suggest that recent experience of extreme weather events does not significantly influence supply awareness and mirror previously identified knowledge differences between well owners and young adults. Age, gender, supply use and perceived self-efficacy emerge as recurring focal points and accordingly merit consideration from groundwater and health communication practitioners for future risk interventions.
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Private groundwater management and risk awareness: A cross-
sectional analysis of two age-related subsets in the Republic of
Ireland
S. Mooney, J. O'Dwyer, P.D. Hynds
PII: S0048-9697(21)03916-4
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2021.148844
Reference: STOTEN 148844
To appear in: Science of the Total Environment
Received date: 21 December 2020
Revised date: 29 June 2021
Accepted date: 30 June 2021
Please cite this article as: S. Mooney, J. O'Dwyer and P.D. Hynds, Private groundwater
management and risk awareness: A cross-sectional analysis of two age-related subsets in
the Republic of Ireland, Science of the Total Environment (2018), https://doi.org/10.1016/
j.scitotenv.2021.148844
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© 2018 © 2021 Published by Elsevier B.V.
Private groundwater management and risk awareness: a cross-sectional
analysis of two age-related subsets in the Republic of Ireland
Mooney S. 1, O’Dwyer, J. 2, 3, 4, Hynds P.D. 1, 2,
1 Environmental Sustainability & Health Institute, Technological University Dublin, Dublin, Ireland.
2 Irish Centre for Research in Applied Geosciences (iCRAG), University College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland.
3 School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University College Cork, Cork, Ireland.
4 Environmental Research Institute, University of Cork, Cork, Ireland.
Highlights
Awareness of private well management factors quantified among 560 Irish well users
Awareness scores compared between two age-related subsets.
Median awareness score was 66.7%, with well owners markedly outperforming students.
Awareness- and gender-based clusters identified in each subset.
Socio-demographics, perceived self-efficacy and well use recurring determinants of awareness.
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Abstract:
Risk communication represents the optimal instrument for decreasing the incidence of private
groundwater contamination and associated waterborne illnesses. However, despite attempts to
promote voluntary well maintenance in high groundwater-reliant regions such as the Republic of
Ireland, awareness levels of supply status (e.g. structural integrity) have remained low. As
investigations of supply awareness are often thematically narrow and homogeneous with respect to
sub-population, revised analyses of awareness among both current and future supply owners (i.e.
adults of typical well owner and student age) are necessary. Accordingly, the current study utilised a
national survey of well users and an age-based comparison of supply awareness. Awareness was
measured among 560 Irish private well users using a multi-domain scoring framework and analysed
in conjunction with experiential variables including experience of extreme weather events and
previous household infections, and perceived self-efficacy in maintaining supply. Respondents
displayed a median overall awareness score of 66.7%, with supply owners (n = 399) and students (n
= 161) exhibiting median scores of 75% and 58.3%. Awareness among both combined respondent
subsets and well owners was significantly related to gender, well use factors and self-perceived
behavioural efficacy while awareness among students was not correlated with any independent
variable. Cluster analysis identified three distinct respondent groups characterised by awareness
score and gender in both current and future well owner subsets. Male well owners and students
displayed higher perceived self-efficacy irrespective of awareness score while female well owners
that demonstrated high awareness were significantly more likely to report postgraduate educational
(p < 0.001). Findings suggest that recent experience of extreme weather events does not significantly
influence supply awareness and mirror previously identified knowledge differences between well
owners and young adults. Age, gender, supply use and perceived self-efficacy emerge as recurring
focal points and accordingly merit consideration from groundwater and health communication
practitioners for future risk interventions.
Key words: awareness, groundwater contamination, private well management, risk
communication
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1. Introduction
Approximately 16% of the population (750,000 people) in the Republic of Ireland (ROI) is
served by private individual household and community-managed groundwater wells (CSO, 2017a).
As these supplies are neither regulated nor inventoried nationally, promotion of voluntary well
maintenance via risk communication (i.e. the systematic, science-based conveyance of risk to
vulnerable populations) is integral to safeguarding public health in groundwater-reliant rural areas
(Palenchar, 2010). Conscious knowledge or awareness of well status (e.g. structural features,
proximity to contamination sources) has been identified as a principal precursor to well
management encompassing supply inspection, water quality testing and treatment (Kreutzwiser et
al., 2011; Flanagan et al., 2015; Malecki et al., 2017). However, well management guidelines by local
and national government authorities are limited and recent research in the ROI has documented low
levels of supply awareness among well users (Hynds et al., 2013). With E. coli present in an
estimated 30% of Irish household wells in 2017 and exposure to private well water implicated in 44%
of notified national cases of verotoxigenic E. coli (VTEC) in the same year (HPSC, 2019; EPA, 2020),
there is an evident need for improved education of and engagement with Irish private well owners.
The urgency for effective interventions is significantly elevated by the increasing occurrence of
climate change-related extreme weather events (EWEs) such as flooding and heavy rainfall, which
have been demonstrated to facilitate and accelerate microbial contamination of private wells both
nationally and internationally (Andrade et al., 2018; O’Dwyer et al., 2016). As more frequent and
acute EWEs will necessitate routine, seasonal well maintenance and, in turn, greater awareness of
supply management to prevent groundwater contamination, a holistic characterisation of supply
awareness and associated determinants is imperative for development of future risk communication
initiatives.
While historical shortcomings in enabling improved awareness among private well owners
may be attributable to deficiencies in information availability and dissemination (Munene & Hall,
2019; Mooney et al., 2020a), they may also be ascribed to limited acknowledgement of particular
experiential and cognitive factors leading to poorly framed, overly-generalised risk communication
materials (Mooney et al., 2020b). Previous literature (encompassing studies from North America,
Southeast Asia and the ROI) has variously identified age, gender, education, homeownership,
household composition, residential duration and sensorial cues as significant determinants or
indicators of well user awareness (Renaud et al., 2011; Hynds et al., 2013; Chappells et al., 2014;
Jones & Khaira, 2014). However, other aspects of potential relevance to private groundwater end-
user awareness such as perceived behavioural competency (or self-efficacy), climate change
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concern, EWE experience and previous occurrence of a potentially waterborne infection within the
household, have been afforded considerably less attention (Fox et al., 2016; Ekstrom et al., 2017). As
of now, many drinking water quality guidelines still neglect to include information on climate change
adaptation or demonstrate the actual practicality of supply maintenance measures. (Khan et al.,
2015; Green, 2016). The roles of self-perceived confidence in maintaining supply and recent
household illness (i.e. occurrence of gastrointestinal illness) as drivers of awareness are similarly
overlooked (Lavallee et al., 2021). Exceptions notwithstanding (Hynds et al., 2013; Lavallee et al.,
2021), existing delineations of supply knowledge globally have tended to focus on individual aspects
of supply management (e.g. testing history) and often neglect to provide a definitive definition of
supply awareness (Mooney et al., 2020a). Aspects of supply awareness conducive to risk prevention
and behavioural adoption may encompass knowledge of physical supply characteristics in addition
to maintenance history and contamination hazards (Kreuztwiser et al., 2011; Di Pelino et al., 2019).
As more sophisticated media engagement channels and audience categorisation algorithms
may be introduced in the future (Hoffman et al., 2019), subsequent generations of well owners may
be easier to engage with and thus display greater supply awareness than their antecedents.
However, in spite of the impact of modern socio-cultural shifts (ILC Global Alliance, 2012),
intergenerational learning (i.e. knowledge and norms imparted from adults) has in certain cases
continued to influence environmental risk awareness among younger populations (Williams et al.,
2017; Lawson et al., 2019). A comparison of awareness levels among adults of well owner age
(current well owners) and student age (emerging well owners) may shed further light on both
established and understudied phenomena governing well user awareness and enable prediction of
future awareness levels. As today’s young adults (i.e. students ≥18 years old) represent the ‘climate
change generation’, growing up amid high information saturation and uncertainty regarding climate
change-induced EWEs (Wachholz et al., 2014; Ford & King, 2015), future well owners warrant
proportionate attention to current well owners in the context of private groundwater supply
awareness. To date, there is limited international research comparing supply knowledge levels
between these two demographic subsets. Although prior research in the ROI has drawn this
distinction (Hynds et al., 2014), the influence of EWE experience and climate change concern on
students’ and well owners’ awareness has yet to be determined.
With the intention of devising a robust delineation of well user awareness and associated
determinants, the current study utilises a national survey of private well users in the ROI. A
comprehensive awareness scoring framework is introduced encompassing knowledge of physical
supply attributes, supply maintenance history and supply contamination. Further to customary
socio-demographic and supply use characteristics, the significance of perceived behavioural efficacy,
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occurrence of household illness, climate change concern and EWE experience are explored as
contributory factors to well user awareness. Intergenerational awareness levels are analysed,
compared and contrasted using well owner age and young adult age (i.e. student) respondent
subsets. Cluster analysis is undertaken to discern latent awareness response trends and audience
segments in both subsets, with clusters subsequently analysed to establish key determinants of
audience awareness levels. In distinguishing central focal points determining present and future well
user knowledge in an era of heightened groundwater contamination and health risk due to climate
change, study findings may provide value to both national and international environmental health
practitioners, in addition to groundwater professionals such as hydrogeologists and well drillers.
2. Methodology
2.1. Survey parameters
The survey was conducted in the ROI (area = 70,273 km2), which has a total population of 4.9
million and a relatively large rural population of approximately 1.8 million (CSO, 2017b). The ROI’s
climate is cool temperate oceanic, with the country thus prone to seasonal surges in precipitation
(McCarthy et al., 2015). Accordingly, survey questions relating to well water quality examined
pathogenic contaminants (potentially mobilised via EWEs) and contamination sources of
anthropogenic origin. Questions pertaining to EWE experience were limited to named events
occurring within the last decade to maximise reporting accuracy. The survey layout was informed by
the KAP (Knowledge, Attitudes and Practice) model and adopted a structured, standardised format
(Warwick, 1983). Survey participants were required to be ≥18 years old (i.e. young adult age) and
avail of a private groundwater well as their principal source of domestic potable water.
2.2. Survey design
The survey contained 41 questions across four sections. The first section comprised 11
questions concerning private well use, i.e. supply connection (ownership), construction history and
function(s), and respondent demographics. Income and household size categories were informed by
existing frameworks (CSO, 2017a; UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2017). The second
section comprised 13 questions pertaining to supply knowledge, water quality testing (i.e., chemical
and microbial parameters) and human health, with those seeking to discern respondents supply
management awareness and recent household history of gastrointestinal illness retained for the
current study. Section 3 contained 9 questions regarding EWEs and climate change, three of which
were included herein. For the first question, respondents were requested to disclose household
experience of five recent EWEs occurring between 2013 and 2018, including: Storm Deirdre
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(December 2018 heavy rainfall), summer drought 2018, “Beast from the East” (February-March 2018
snowstorm), Storm Ophelia (October 2017 heavy rainfall) and winter 2013/2014 floods (fluvial
flooding). The second question asked respondents citing EWE experience to recall any observed
post-event changes in water quality and quantity while the third asked respondents to rate their
concern vis-à-vis climate change impacts on groundwater quality. The final section consisted of 7
questions relative to general well maintenance encompassing behavioural barriers, educational
preferences and perceived self-efficacy (included herein).
All sections included in the current study employed dichotomous and multiple-choice
questions to collect and partition categorical data. Filter questions were utilised to ensure
respondents availed of a private groundwater supply and separate well users based on prior
experience (i.e. EWE experience); Likert-scale questions were used to establish perceived confidence
in undertaking well maintenance and climate change concern.
2.3. Awareness scoring protocol
An awareness scoring protocol adapted from a previous framework by Lavallee et al. (2021)
was developed to enable quantitative measurement of well user awareness. A total of 7 domains
(tenets of supply awareness) were utilised for scoring, encompassing awareness of well depth, well
age, well features (i.e. structural components), water treatment, water quality testing history,
relevant pathogens and pathogen sources (Table 1). Well depth categories were derived from
Misstear et al. (2006) to enable capture of all well types (e.g. shallow dug wells and deep drilled
wells). To quantify overall awareness, dichotomous and trichotomous scoring protocols were used
across individual domains. The maximum possible score for overall awareness was 12, with scores
standardised between 0-100 for statistical analysis. Cronbach’s alpha was used to assess internal
consistency of responses to scored awareness items.
Table 1: Awareness scoring framework (domains, response categories and scoring protocols).
Awareness domain
Response categories
Scoring protocol
Score 1
Well age
Well depth
Well features * ǂ
0-5 years
10-20 years
30-50 years
Don’t know
< 10 ft (3m)
50-100 ft (15-30m)
200-300 ft (60-90m)
Don’t know
Well cap present
5-10 years
20-30 years
> 50 years
10-50 ft (3-15m)
100-200 ft (30-60m)
> 300 ft (90m)
Cemented well casing
Aware
Unaware
Aware
Unaware
Aware of 5-6 features
1
0
1
0
3
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7
Treatment system present
Previous water quality test
Pathogens found in wells *
Pathogen sources *
Damaged well cap
Pump at base of well
Yes
Don’t know
Yes
Don’t know
Campylobacter
Giardia
Salmonella
Domestic animals
Grazing animals
Damaged well casing
Buried well
No
No
Cryptosporidium
Norovirus
Verotoxigenic E.coli
Farmyards
Septic tanks
Aware of 3-4 features
Aware of 1-2 features
Aware of 0 features
Aware
Unaware
Aware
Unaware
Aware of 5-6 pathogens
Aware of 3-4 pathogens
Aware of 1-2 pathogens
Aware of 0 pathogens
Aware of 3-4 sources
Aware of 1-2 sources
Aware of 0 sources
2
1
0
1
0
1
0
3
2
1
0
2
1
0
1 Maximum awareness score = 12
* Respondents required to select ‘Yes’, ‘No’ or ‘Don’t know’ for each category
ǂ ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ answer options classified as ‘Aware’
Only ‘Yes’ answer option classified as ‘Aware’
2.4. Survey completion
The survey was circulated both online and in-person between 17 September and 17
November 2019. The online survey was hosted on the survey-hosting platform SurveyMonkey while
the physical survey was distributed within four rural agricultural colleges in group format (i.e.
classroom setting). Written and electronic survey formats were preferred over phone and postal
surveys as both typically yield higher response rates (Dillman et al., 2014). A series of relevant rural
interest groups and organisations were consulted via purposive sampling to facilitate online survey
distribution, with all informed of study objectives and data handling procedures (exclusion of
respondent ID and IP addresses) prior to survey dissemination. Purposive sampling was also utilised
to identify agricultural colleges assisting in physical survey dissemination, with all participating
institutions providing consent prior to onsite visits. Survey respondents were not offered any
incentive (financial or otherwise) to participate.
The majority of physical survey respondents comprised students between the age of 18-24
while online respondents were primarily 25 years old or older (i.e. well owner age). As such,
partitioning the survey on the basis of completion mode represented the optimal means of
establishing student and well owner subsets.
2.5. Statistical analysis
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Survey data were imported to IBM SPSS Statistics 26 for analysis, with current and future
well owner subsets (i.e. well owners and students) analysed separately. Descriptive statistical
functions were employed to detect outliers in continuous data (i.e. awareness scores), with the
Shapiro-Wilk test used to determine data normality and selection of appropriate statistical
approaches. Responses to combined awareness items demonstrated consistency across scales in
both integrated and discrete respondent subsets (Appendix). Mann-Whitney U and Kruskal-Wallis
non-parametric tests were used to investigate relationships between awareness and
binary/categorical variables, with a significance level of 5% (p < 0.05) used by convention.
Two-step cluster analysis was used to identify subsets based on respondent awareness
scores and demographic variables, with the intention of identifying discrete audience segments for
future risk communication activities. Provisional clusters were developed using two-step clustering
and the ‘elbow method’ to ascertain the optimal cluster number (explained variation as a function of
cluster number). The quality of the resulting clusters (i.e. separation distance between classified
objects) was assessed using the silhouette measure (silhouette score 0.7). Upon identification of
final clusters, chi-square tests were used to identify significant associations between cluster
membership and independent (categorical) variables. Post-hoc tests using adjusted standardised
residuals were employed to detect significant differences between variable categories.
Binary logistic regression was employed to identify factors with the greatest predictive
power vis-à-vis cluster membership. Explanatory variables used for regression modelling were
examined for statistical significance using the Wald statistic. The Hosmer-Lemeshow test was used
to evaluate goodness-of-fit between observed and predicted cluster membership (Hosmer et al.,
2013).
4. Results
3.1. Respondent characteristics
The survey was undertaken by a total of 765 private well users, with 560 surveys retained for
analysis where respondents answered all questions necessary for awareness quantification and
subsequent analysis. The online survey was attempted by 572 private well users while the physical
survey was attempted by 193 private well users. Subset-specific socio-demographic and supply use
characteristics are presented in Table 2. Survey completion bias (noted for respondent education,
geographical location and source connection) are outlined in the appendix.
Respondents originated from all 4 provinces in the ROI. A slightly greater proportion of
respondents were male (53.0%, n = 293) with the most common age range being 18-24 years
(26.8%, n = 150). Mean household size was 3.9 (SD = 1.7), with almost one-third of households
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(30.7%, n = 172) comprising ≥1 member from a ‘vulnerable’ subpopulation defined as residents
with an elevated risk of contracting a gastrointestinal infection (5 or 65 years of age). Over two-
thirds (n = 368) of respondents disclosing prior education reported attainment of a third level
degree; 67.0% (n = 295) of those disclosing annual household income reported an income range
exceeding the average national bracket of €25,000-50,000 (CSO, 2017a).
Permanent property ownership was reported by 96.8% of respondents (n = 542), with a
large majority also reporting residential duration > 10 years (81.6%, n = 457). Of those aware of well
construction history (i.e. residence relative to supply installation), 58.6% (n = 311) stated that their
supply was installed during current occupancy. Where providing a function additional to domestic
water supply, private wells were most frequently used for agricultural purposes (51.0%, n = 284).
Descriptive statistics outlining experiential variables (EWE experience, household health)
and cognitive variables (climate change concern, perceived self-efficacy) across age-related subsets
are presented in the Appendix (Tables 1-2). Respondents in both subsets were broadly
homogeneous in terms of age profile; over 90% (n = 377) of respondents in the well owner age
subset were > 25 years of age and over while 80.7% (n = 130) of respondents in the student subset
were aged between 18-24 years old.
Table 2: Socio-demographic and supply use characteristics of survey respondents (n = 560).
Total
Categories
Frequency (%)
answered
1
All (n = 560)
Well owner
age (n = 399)
Student
age (n = 161)
560
Connacht
Leinster
Munster
Ulster
60 (10.7)
250 (44.6)
212 (37.9)
38 (6.8)
36 (9.0)
191 (47.9)
138 (34.6)
34 (8.5)
24 (14.9)
59 (36.6)
74 (46.0)
4 (2.5)
553
560
560
Male
Female
18-24 years
25-34 years
35-44 years
45-54 years
55-64 years
> 65 years
Infant (0-5 years)
Child (6-10 years)
Adolescent (11-17 years)
Adult (18-65 years)
293 (53.0)
260 (47.0)
150 (26.8)
65 (11.6)
111 (19.8)
115 (20.5)
91 (16.3)
28 (5.0)
86 (15.4)
102 (18.2)
197 (35.2)
535 (95.5)
180 (45.8)
213 (54.2)
20 (5.0)
40 (10.0)
106 (26.6)
114 (28.6)
91 (22.8)
28 (7.0)
77 (19.3)
91 (22.8)
131 (32.8)
375 (94.0)
113 (70.6)
47 (29.4)
130 (80.7)
25 (15.5)
5 (3.1)
1 (0.6)
-
-
9 (5.6)
11 (6.8)
66 (41.0)
160 (99.4)
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560
536
440
560
560
531
560
557
Elderly (> 65 years)
Small (1-2 persons)
Medium (3-4 persons)
Large (≥ 5 persons)
Primary/secondary school
University/vocational degree
Postgraduate (MA/PhD)
€0-25,000
€25,000-50,000
€50,000-75,000
€75,000-100,000
> €100,000
Own
Rent
0-10 years
10-20 years
> 20 years
Installed by previous occupants
Installed during current occupancy
Individual household
Group water scheme
Other domestic (e.g. cooking)
Agriculture
No other purpose
103 (18.4)
121 (21.6)
229 (40.9)
210 (37.5)
168 (31.3)
251 (46.8)
117 (21.8)
32 (7.3)
113 (25.7)
112 (25.5)
92 (20.9)
91 (20.7)
542 (96.8)
18 (3.2)
103 (18.4)
214 (38.2)
243 (43.4)
220 (41.4)
311 (58.6)
488 (87.1)
72 (12.9)
505 (90.7)
284 (51.0)
7 (1.3)
81 (20.3)
106 (26.6)
166 (41.6)
127 (31.8)
56 (14.8)
208 (54.9)
115 (30.3)
17 (5.1)
75 (22.4)
88 (26.3)
80 (23.7)
75 (22.4)
388 (7.2)
11 (2.8)
92 (23.1)
125 (31.3)
182 (45.6)
169 (43.4)
220 (56.6)
348 (87.2)
51 (12.8)
373 (3.7)
157 (39.4)
5 (1.3)
22 (13.7)
15 (9.3)
63 (39.1)
83 (51.6)
112 (71.3)
43 (27.4)
2 (1.3)
15 (14.3)
38 (36.2)
24 (22.9)
12 (11.4)
16 (15.3)
154 (95.7)
7 (4.3)
11 (6.8)
89 (55.3)
61 (37.9)
51 (35.9)
91 (64.1)
140 (87.0)
21 (13.0)
132 (83.0)
127 (79.9)
2 (1.3)
1 Chosen answer categories with < 10 responses and ‘opt out’ clauses were excluded from analysis
* Male students over-represented due to agricultural college demographics
ǂ Age groups present in respondent household
Supplementary to drinking water
3.2. Respondent awareness
3.2.1. Median awareness scores
Respondents exhibited a median overall awareness score of 66.7% (SD ± 20.7) (Table 3).
Median awareness scores exhibited for the categories physical supply characteristics (age, depth,
structural components), supply maintenance history (water quality testing, treatment) and
pathogenic supply contamination (pathogens, pathogen sources) were 90.0% (SD = 29.5), 100.0% (SD
= 20.6) and 40.0% (SD = 29.9), respectively. For individual awareness domains, respondents
exhibited highest levels of awareness with respect to water quality testing history (100.0%, SD ±
25.8) and lowest levels of awareness with respect to pathogenic contaminants (33.3%, SD ± 32.8).
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Well owners exhibited a higher median overall awareness score than students (75.0%, SD ±
19.4; 58.3%, SD ± 20.4) and higher scores across all individual awareness domains. The greatest
differences in individual domain scores between subsets were observed for awareness of well
features, well water treatment and pathogen sources. Awareness of pathogens found in wells was
the lowest scoring domain by both well owners (33.3%, SD ± 33.2) and students (0.0%, SD ± 30.0).
Table 3: Respondent awareness scores across supply management factors.
Scored variable
Awareness score
All (n = 560)
Well owners (n = 399)
Students (n = 161)
Mean
Median
SD
Mean
Median
SD
Mean
Median
SD
Well age
Well depth
Well features
Well cap present
Cement well casing
Damaged well cap
Damaged well casing
Pump situated at base of well
Buried well
Treatment system present
Previous water quality test
Pathogens found in wells
Campylobacter
Cryptosporidium
Giardia
Norovirus
Salmonella
Verotoxigenic E. coli
Pathogen sources
Septic tanks
Farmyards
Grazing animals
Domestic animals
Overall
90.7
71.1
74.5
73.2
61.8
70.2
63.9
71.4
73.4
92.7
92.9
33.3
19.1
43.9
13.8
13.9
27.3
50.0
62.1
73.6
69.3
47.9
34.5
66.3
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
33.3
0.0
0.0
0.0
0.0
0.0
50.0
50.0
100.0
100.0
0.0
0.0
66.7
29.0
45.4
36.0
44.3
48.6
45.8
48.1
45.2
44.2
26.1
25.8
32.8
39.3
49.7
34.5
34.7
44.6
50.0
39.3
44.1
46.2
50.0
47.6
20.7
94.2
72.9
80.3
79.2
67.7
78.2
69.7
75.4
80.5
97.5
95.2
36.9
20.8
51.9
16.0
14.3
28.3
55.9
67.2
75.7
74.4
54.9
37.8
70.5
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
33.3
0.0
100.0
0.0
0.0
0.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
0.0
75.0
23.3
44.5
33.1
40.6
46.8
41.3
46.0
43.1
39.7
15.7
21.3
33.2
40.6
50.0
36.7
35.0
45.1
49.7
39.1
42.9
43.7
49.8
48.6
19.4
82.0
66.5
60.0
58.4
47.2
50.3
49.7
61.5
55.9
80.7
87.0
24.2
14.9
24.2
8.1
13.0
24.8
35.4
50.3
68.3
56.5
30.4
26.1
55.8
100.0
100.0
66.7
100.0
0.0
100.0
0.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
0.0
0.0
0.0
0.0
0.0
0.0
0.0
50.0
100.0
100.0
0.0
0.0
58.3
38.5
47.4
38.7
49.4
50.1
50.2
50.2
48.8
49.8
39.6
33.8
30.0
35.7
43.0
27.3
33.8
43.3
48.0
36.9
46.7
49.7
46.2
44.0
20.4
3.2.2. Overall awareness and respondent characteristics
All respondents
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Respondent awareness was significantly associated with gender (p = 0.021), age (p < 0.001)
and education (p < 0.001). Males registered a higher median score than females while higher age
and educational attainment also corresponded with increased awareness (Figure 1). Awareness also
displayed a significant relationship with household size (p = 0.002) and residential duration (p <
0.001). Respondents residing in small households (1-2 persons) exhibited a median score of 75.0%
(SD ± 21.9) compared to a median score of 66.7% (SD ± 20.6) exhibited by respondents residing in
large households (≥ 5 persons); respondents reporting residential duration of 0-10 years in their
current property attained a median score of 66.7% (SD ± 20.9) while those whose tenure exceeded
20 years exhibited a median score of 75.0% (SD ± 19.3).
With respect to private well use, awareness demonstrated a significant relationship with
well construction history (p = 0.030) and well connection (p < 0.001). Higher median scores were
exhibited by respondents who had their well installed during current occupancy (75.0%, SD ± 18.9)
an availed of an individual domestic well (70.8%, SD ± 19.2). Awareness additionally displayed a
significant relationship with confidence in maintaining well (p < 0.001); respondents expressing
confidence in their ability registered a median score of 75.0% (SD ± 16.8) while those who expressed
a lack of confidence attained a median score of 58.3% (SD ± 18.9). Neither recent household health
history nor EWE experience were significantly related to overall awareness, with observation of
post-event changes in water quality/quantity and climate change concern also statistically unrelated.
Age-related subsets
Awareness among well owner age respondents demonstrated a significant association with
gender (p < 0.001) and duration of current residence (p = 0.022); males attained a higher median
score (75.0%, SD ± 17.5) than females (66.7%, SD ± 20.2) while well owners reporting residential
duration of > 20 years at their current property exhibited higher awareness than those reporting
shorter duration (Figure 2). Well owner awareness was significantly related to multiple well use
characteristics, including supply history (p = 0.011), connection (p < 0.001) and agricultural use (p <
0.001). Well owners reporting well installation during their current residency, ownership of an
individual domestic well and agricultural well use registered higher median scores. Well owner
awareness was also significantly related to confidence in maintaining well (p < 0.001), with well
owners citing confidence displaying a median score of 83.3% (SD ± 13.9) compared to 58.3% (SD ±
18.1) among those citing no confidence.
Well owner awareness exhibited no statistically significant association with experiential or
concern-based variables. Awareness among student age respondents, meanwhile, was not
significantly related to any independent variable employed in this study.
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Figure 1: Significant associations between overall awareness score and socio-demographics, well use characteristics and cognitive factors among all
respondents (n = 560).
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Figure 2: Significant associations between overall awareness score and socio-demographics, well use characteristics and cognitive factors among well
owner age respondents (n = 399).
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3.3. Awareness-based clustering
3.3.1. Cluster identification and profiling
Final clusters for well owner and student subsets were both based on two variables gender
and overall awareness score. Final clusters were profiled based on respondent gender relative to
awareness level, with mean scores between 0-50%, 50-70% and 70-100% referred to as low,
moderate and high awareness, respectively. Three discrete clusters with a silhouette score of 0.7
were identified within each subset. Two clusters in the well owner subset exclusively comprised
female respondents while two clusters in the student subset exclusively comprised male
respondents. Accordingly, clusters 1 and 2 in the well owner subset were labelled ‘low awareness
females’ and ‘high awareness females’, with clusters 2 and 3 in the student subset labelled ‘low
awareness males’ and ‘moderate awareness males’ (Tables 4 and 5).
Table 4: Cluster profiles for well owner awareness scores by gender (n = 393).
Clusters:
Cluster 1 (n = 82)
Cluster 2 (n = 131)
Cluster 3 (n = 180)
Low awareness females
High awareness females
Males
Mean awareness score:
45.6
79.7
74.6
Table 5: Cluster profiles for student awareness scores by gender (n = 160).
Clusters:
Cluster 1 (n = 47)
Cluster 2 (n = 29)
Cluster 3 (n = 84)
Females
Low awareness males
Moderate awareness males
Mean awareness score:
51.8
31.0
66.3
Well owner clusters
Well owner cluster membership (Table 6) was significantly associated with respondent age
(p < 0.001), with post-hoc tests reflecting the particularly high proportion of male respondents aged
between 18-24 years (AR = 3.2) and 65 years (AR = 3.2) in cluster 3. Cluster membership also
demonstrated a significant relationship with presence of elderly residents (p = 0.008). Post-hoc tests
once again underscored gendered differences, with a notably high proportion of males citing
presence of ≥ 1 elderly person in the household (AR = 3.1). Cluster membership additionally
exhibited a significant relationship with education (p < 0.001), with educational attainment
demonstrating an ordered relationship with increased female well owner awareness. While a
substantial proportion of high awareness females reported attainment of a postgraduate degree (AR
= 4.3), a markedly lower proportion of male well owners reported identical educational attainment
(AR = −3.3).
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Cluster membership demonstrated a significant association with well connection (p = 0.001)
and agricultural well use (p < 0.001). The majority of high awareness females availed of an individual
household well (AR = 2.5) while a significant proportion of low awareness females availed of a
private group water scheme (AR = 3.5). As a function of respondent sample, agricultural well use was
reported by a higher proportion of male well owners (AR = 5.5) and a small proportion of high
awareness females (AR = −3.6) and low awareness females (AR = −2.7). Cluster membership varied
significantly based on self-perceived confidence in maintaining well (p < 0.001). A high proportion of
respondents in the low awareness female cluster reported no confidence in their ability to maintain
their supply (AR = 5.9). Cluster membership was further associated with occurrence of
gastrointestinal illness in the household (p < 0.001), as evidenced by the high proportion of low
awareness females (AR = 2.9) and low proportion of males (AR = 4.0) citing a recent household
episode of gastrointestinal illness.
Table 6: Significant associations between well owner cluster membership and respondent
characteristics (n = 393).
Variable
Cluster membership (%)
χ2
p value
Cluster 1
(n = 82)
Cluster 2
(n = 131)
Cluster 3
(n = 180)
Age
18-24 years
25-34 years
35-44 years
45-54 years
55-64 years
65 years
Household composition
1 elderly person
Yes
No
Education
Primary/secondary school
University/vocational degree
Postgraduate (MA/PhD)
Well connection
Individual household
Group water scheme
Well used for agriculture
Yes
1 (1.2%)
10 (12.2%)
26 (31.7%)
23 (28.0%)
20 (24.4%)
2 (2.4%)
11 (13.4%)
71 (86.6%)
11 (14.3%)
46 (59.7%)
20 (26.0%)
62 (75.6%)
20 (24.4%)
18 (22.0%)
3 (2.3%)
12 (9.2%)
36 (27.5%)
38 (29.0%)
37 (28.2%)
5 (3.8%)
20 (15.3%)
111 (84.7%)
13 (10.2%)
58 (45.3%)
57 (44.5%)
122 (93.1%)
9 (6.9%)
39 (29.8%)
16 (8.9%)
17 (9.4%)
44 (24.4%)
51 (28.3%)
31 (17.2%)
21 (11.7%)
49 (27.2%)
131 (72.8%)
31 (18.1%)
103 (60.2%)
37 (21.6%)
158 (87.8%)
22 (12.2%)
97 (54.2%)
25.270
9.764
19.793
13.875
31.973
0.005
0.008
0.001
0.001
< 0.001
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No
Confidence in maintaining well
Confident
Somewhat confident
Not confident
Household illness in last 12 months
Yes
No
64 (78.0%)
9 (14.3%)
30 (47.6%)
24 (38.1%)
18 (22.5%)
62 (77.5%)
92 (70.2%)
50 (42.0%)
55 (46.2%)
14 (11.8%)
22 (17.1%)
107 (82.9%)
82 (45.8%)
74 (47.4%)
71 (45.5%)
11 (7.1%)
9 (5.2%)
163 (94.8%)
43.687
17.588
< 0.001
< 0.001
Student clusters
Student cluster membership exhibited a significant relationship with well construction
history (p = 0.038) and well connection (p = 0.044) (Table 7). As a result of sample demographics, a
comparatively high proportion of female students reporting having had their private well installed
during current occupancy (AR = 2.5) while a comparatively low proportion availed of an individual
household well (AR = −2.5). Student cluster membership was further associated with confidence in
maintaining well (p = < 0.001), with a notably high proportion of moderate awareness males (AR =
2.4) and low proportion of females (AR = −2.8) citing confidence in their ability to maintain their
supply.
Table 7: Significant associations between student cluster membership and respondent
characteristics (n = 160).
Variable
Cluster membership (%)
χ2
p value
Cluster 1
(n = 47)
Cluster 2
(n = 29)
Cluster 3
(n = 84)
Well construction history
Installed by previous occupants
Installed during current occupancy
Well connection
Individual household
Group water scheme
Confidence in maintaining well
Confident
Somewhat confident
Not confident
19 (47.5%)
21 (52.5%)
36 (76.6%)
11 (23.4%)
8 (20.0%)
28 (70.0%)
4 (10.0%)
17 (68.0%)
8 (32.0%)
26 (89.7%)
3 (10.3%)
5 (26.3%)
13 (68.4%)
1 (5.3%)
54 (71.1%)
22 (28.9%)
77 (91.7%)
7 (8.3%)
36 (51.4%)
29 (41.4%)
5 (7.1%)
6.526
6.243
12.516
0.038
0.044
0.014
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3.3.2. Awareness cluster modelling
Well owner cluster models
In model 1 (low awareness female well owners), self-perceived confidence in maintaining
supply (p < 0.001) constituted the most significant variable (Table 8). Respondents in cluster 1 were
more likely to cited moderate confidence (OR = 11.593) or no confidence (OR = 3.964) in maintaining
their supply. Agricultural well use (p = 0.004) and source connection (p = 0.007) represented the
other significant factors in the model. Low awareness female well owners were 2.970 times more
likely to use their well for domestic-only (i.e. non-agricultural) purposes and 3.041 times more likely
to be connected to a private group water scheme.
Table 8: Cluster 1 model (low awareness female well owners, n = 82).
Variable *
B
S.E.
Wald
p value
Odds ratio
95% C.I. for odds ratio
Lower
Upper
Confidence in maintaining
well (somewhat confident)
2.450
0.462
28.128
< 0.001
11.593
4.687
28.672
Confidence in maintaining
well (not confident)
1.377
0.364
14.281
< 0.001
3.964
1.940
8.096
Well connection (private
group water scheme)
1.112
0.410
7.370
0.007
3.041
1.362
6.787
Well used for agriculture
(no)
1.089
0.376
8.369
0.004
2.970
1.421
6.210
* Reference categories: confidence in maintaining well (confident), well connection (private well), well used for
agriculture (yes)
Membership in the high awareness females cluster (Table 9) demonstrated a significant
relationship with both educational attainment (p = 0.001) and agricultural well use (p = 0.029).
Respondents with a university/vocational degree and postgraduate qualification were 2.792 and
2.368 times more likely to belong to cluster 2, respectively. Respondents using their well for
domestic-only purposes were 1.692 times more likely to belong to this cluster.
Table 9: Cluster 2 model (high awareness female well owners, n = 131).
Variable *
B
S.E.
Wald
p value
Odds ratio
95% C.I. for odds ratio
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Lower
Upper
Education (university/
vocational degree)
1.027
0.376
7.470
0.006
2.792
1.337
5.830
Education (MA/PhD)
0.862
0.246
12.256
< 0.001
2.368
1.462
3.838
Well used for agriculture
(no)
0.527
0.241
4.777
0.029
1.693
1.056
2.715
* Reference categories: education (primary/secondary school), well used for agriculture (yes)
A function of respondent demographics, agricultural well use made the most significant
contribution to model 3 (p < 0.001) as respondents availing of a private well were 3.462 times more
likely to belong to the male well owners cluster (Table 10). Cluster membership was also significantly
associated with confidence in maintaining well (p = 0.013) and reporting of recent household illness
(p = 0.005). Respondents citing moderate confidence in their ability to maintain their supply (OR =
3.577) and no recollection of a recent gastrointestinal illness in the household (OR = 3.205) were
both significantly more likely to belong to cluster 3.
Table 10: Cluster 3 model (male well owners, n = 180).
Variable *
B
S.E.
Wald
p value
Odds ratio
95% C.I. for odds ratio
Lower
Upper
Confidence in maintaining
well (somewhat confident)
1.274
0.450
8.031
0.005
3.577
1.481
8.635
Confidence in maintaining
well (confident)
0.144
0.259
0.308
0.579
1.155
0.695
1.918
Household illness in last 12
months (no)
1.165
0.417
7.791
0.005
3.205
1.415
7.261
Well used for agriculture
(yes)
1.242
0.253
24.125
< 0.001
3.462
2.109
5.682
* Reference categories: confidence in maintaining well (not confident), household illness in last 12 months (yes), well
used for agriculture (no)
Student cluster models
Well construction history (p = 0.014) represented the most significant variable in the female
students cluster (Table 11). As a result of sample demographics, female students were 2.721 times
more likely to report inheritance of household supply than male students. Reporting of recent
household illness (p = 0.044) represented the other significant contribution to the model as females
were almost three times more likely (OR = 2.941) to report a recent household episode of
gastrointestinal illness.
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Table 11: Cluster 1 model (female students, n = 47).
Variable *
B
S.E.
Wald
p value
Odds ratio
95% C.I. for odds ratio
Lower
Upper
Household illness in last 12
months (yes)
1.079
0.535
4.066
0.044
2.941
1.031
8.390
Well construction history
(installed by previous
occupants)
1.001
0.407
6.052
0.014
2.721
1.226
6.039
* Reference categories: confidence in maintaining well (not confident), household illness in last 12 months (no), well
construction history (installed during current occupancy)
While membership of cluster 2 (low awareness male students) was not significantly
associated with any predictive variable utilised in this study, membership of cluster 3 (moderate
awareness male students) demonstrated a significant relationship with confidence in maintaining
supply (p = 0.005) (Table 12). High awareness males were 3.915 times more likely to report
confidence and 2.769 times more likely to report moderate confidence in their ability to undertake
private well maintenance.
Table 12: Cluster 3 model (moderate awareness male students, n = 84).
Variable *
95% C.I. for odds ratio
B
S.E.
Wald
p value
Odds ratio
Lower
Upper
Confidence in maintaining
well (somewhat confident)
1.019
0.710
2.056
0.152
2.769
0.688
11.145
Confidence in maintaining
well (confident)
1.365
0.404
11.388
0.001
3.915
1.772
8.650
* Reference categories: confidence in maintaining well (not confident)
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4. Discussion
As private domestic groundwater supplies are typically unregulated, the onus to undertake
supply maintenance and reduce contamination risk lies with individual well owners. With rising
EWEs such as fluvial flooding accelerating global rates of groundwater contamination and
waterborne illness, extensive awareness of private well management will be required to reduce risk
of supply contamination. To compensate for absence of supply regulation, government authorities in
countries with high rural groundwater reliance such as the ROI have attempted to promote such
knowledge via top-down risk communication; however, many such countries have yet to attain
meaningful levels of supply awareness among relevant groundwater end-users (Hynds et al., 2013;
Mooney et al., 2020a). Although several recent studies have attempted to assist risk communication
practitioners via updated measurements of supply awareness (Hynds et al., 2013; Lavallee et al.,
2021), few have introduced a broad characterisation of awareness or explored important potential
predictors such as recent EWE experience and household history of gastrointestinal illness.
Comparisons of awareness between well owners and young adults, who represent the first
generation to grow up amid heightened global risk of EWEs and thus vital recipients of supply
maintenance information going forward, are also scarce. Accordingly, the current study aimed to
develop a comprehensive, quantitative measure of well user awareness and associated
determinants, with awareness levels compared between well owner and young adult (student)
subsets.
In the current study, integrated survey respondent subsets (n = 560) exhibited a median
overall awareness score of 66.7% classified as a medium/moderate level of awareness. While
attaining high median scores for awareness of physical supply characteristics (90.0%) and supply
maintenance history (100.0%), respondents exhibited markedly lower knowledge of pathogenic
supply contamination (40.0%). A previous survey of Irish private well users which utilised a similar
(though less comprehensive) awareness scoring protocol, documented higher mean scores for
awareness of supply structural characteristics and maintenance status (87.8%) and contaminants of
concern (72.0%) than those recorded in the present study (Hynds et al., 2013). It may thus be
inferred that awareness of private well management characteristics in the ROI has not increased
over the past decade in spite of a nationwide engagement campaign initiated in 2013 to promote
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household mitigation of supply contamination risk (EPA, 2013). Comparing national findings to those
reported in a recent study by Lavallee et al. (2021) in Ontario, Canada, a pattern in awareness levels
based on individual aspects of supply management is apparent. Hynds et al. (2013), Lavallee et al.
(2021) and the present study notably report near-maximum levels of awareness concerning supply
maintenance history, moderate-to-high levels concerning structural components of supply and low-
to-moderate levels concerning pathogenic contamination of supply. Knowledge deficits in other,
more specific supply knowledge domains (in particular, susceptibility to pathogenic contamination)
warrant concerted attention (Mooney et al., 2020a). As knowledge gaps in these domains have been
noted in other developed regions and may impede the ability of well owners to accurately assess risk
of supply contamination (Murti et al., 2016; Castleden et al., 2015; Ridpath et al., 2016), it is
imperative that subsequent studies and well user outreach initiatives address these well user
oversights.
The well owner subset exhibited a median awareness score of 75.0% compared to a median
score of 58.0% exhibited by 161 agricultural college students (predominantly young adults). As such,
there would appear to be little evidence of vertical knowledge transfer from current to prospective
well owners (i.e. targeted risk communication to younger groundwater end-users) in the ROI. Prior
research undertaken by Hynds et al. (2014) and Straub & Leahy (2014) have also noted appreciable
differences in supply awareness between existing well owners (i.e. parents/household heads) and
younger well users (i.e. young adults and children). These findings indicate that knowledge
differences may be significantly reduced upon first-time residential property acquisition and
assumption of household responsibility for private well maintenance. While this, in turn, suggests
limited knowledge exchange from parent to young adult, the transferal and impact of social norms,
heuristics and experiential phenomena (which may hinder appropriate supply maintenance) cannot
be as easily ruled out (Morris et al., 2016). Findings suggest that in order to sufficiently expose
prospective well owners to the requisite supply maintenance knowledge, it is likely necessary to
develop educational interventions for young adults outside of their domestic environment. Over
20% of educational practitioners (spanning hydrogeology and groundwater policy) interviewed in an
international expert elicitation study by Mooney et al. (2020b) recommended increased adoption of
groundwater education programmes at both second and third level institutions in future
groundwater risk communication campaigns. In light of the efficacy of recent citizen science
initiatives involving young adults in private well water quality testing workshops and potential for
child-to-adult intergenerational learning (Thornton & Leahy, 2016; Little et al., 2016), the integration
of such programmes into more widespread, large-scale groundwater risk communication
interventions merits consideration.
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Awareness and respondent characteristics
Awareness of private well management characteristics among integrated respondent
subsets demonstrated a significant association with multiple socio-demographic variables.
Associations between awareness, age, education, household size and residential duration
underscore the significance of factors related to household tenure and are consistent with previous
research in developed regions (Chappells et al., 2014; Flanagan et al., 2016; Lavallee et al., 2021). In
the case of respondent age, the greatest differences in awareness score were noted between the
18-24, 25-34 and 35-44 age ranges. As the latter age categories are typically synonymous with
assumption of responsibilities synonymous with full adulthood (e.g. parenthood, property
ownership), the importance of the transition from well user to dual user/owner is once again
apparent. Both well construction history and well connection (ownership) were significantly
associated with respondent awareness, denoting the significance of both well tenure and
responsibility for supply maintenance. Higher median awareness scores among respondents whose
well was installed during current residency were also reported by Hynds et al. (2013) and Lavallee et
al. (2021), with the latter study attributing this result to direct engagement with well drilling
contractors and decision-making requirements concerning source type and location on the part of
the well owner. Familiarity (or lackthereof) with current supply constitutes an important discussion
point in the context of rural regions in North America and ROI as an appreciable number of rural
residential property transfers (particularly among farmers) are made via family inheritance (Leonard
et al., 2017). Residential inheritors who acquire immunity to waterborne disease over time or are
unaware of historical well maintenance or contamination issues may falsely perceive a sense of
supply security, pointing towards property acquisition as a vital control point for well user
engagement (Lavallee et al., 2021). The markedly higher median awareness score by individual
(household) well owners represents a novel finding, as few behavioural or knowledge studies to date
have sought to differentiate between private group water schemes (i.e. community-managed
schemes deriving potable water from a centralised groundwater source) and individual household
wells (Brady & Gray, 2010). While source management guidance to well users availing of group
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schemes is available, as many as forty well users may be precluded from direct supply management
responsibility depending on maintenance protocols for individual schemes; in light of this fact and
the awareness scores identified in the current study, this sector warrants attention going forward.
The association between higher awareness and self-perceived behavioural efficacy in maintaining
supply also represents a significant finding, with confidence in maintaining supply potentially
representing a causative factor as it also may also encompass ability to find or correctly interpret
well maintenance guidance. As a multitude of studies have identified self-perceived behavioural
efficacy as a precursor to well maintenance measures such as well water quality testing (Kreutzwiser
et al., 2011; Straub & Leahy, 2014), the role of information availability and quality (i.e. legibility and
comprehensiveness) in relation to knowledge of and perceived confidence in maintaining supply
represents a relevant research agenda.
Awareness levels among the well owner subset were significantly associated with socio-
demographics, supply use characteristics and perceived behavioural efficacy. Well owner awareness
notably demonstrated a notably significant relationship with agricultural well use, with higher
cognisance of well management among agricultural households indicating greater self-perceived
responsibility and/or vulnerability concerning contamination risk. As agricultural households
represent a significant source and receptor or private groundwater contamination (particularly in
light of limited legislation globally restricting agricultural application), this subpopulation represents
an important area of focus and highlights the importance of concerted, sector-specific engagement
(Mahon et al., 2017; Lall et al., 2020). In contrast to well owners, awareness levels exhibited by
young adults demonstrated no association with any independent variable employed in the current
study. While this fact may be attributable to sample homogeneity, it may once again reinforce the
significance of homeownership and household responsibility towards increasing supply awareness
levels among well users. Notably, overall and categorically specific extreme weather event
experience and climate change concern did not demonstrate a significant association with
respondent awareness among both separate survey subsets. Although recent research in the ROI has
demonstrated that previous EWE experience in the form of flooding wields a significant influence on
risk perception of supply vulnerability to contamination (McDowell et al., 2020), it would appear that
high risk perception of EWE-driven groundwater contamination, does not necessarily correlate with
high levels of supply awareness. Despite increased media coverage of EWEs in developed regions
such as the United States and Europe (Ford & King, 2015; Berglez & Al-Saqaf, 2020), this finding
attests to Khan et al.’s (2015) assertion that water supply management guidelines pertaining to
climate change and EWE adaptation are largely absent from formal engagement channels to
relevant householders. The absence of association between supply awareness and recent
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occurrence of gastrointestinal illness (noted by 13.1% of respondents in total) is further indication
that supply awareness levels have not increased concurrent to rising risk of contamination and
experience of waterborne illness among private well users (EPA, 2020). Previous research has
indicated that, contrary to their greater predisposition towards physical illness, older populations are
inclined to display passive risk taking (i.e. limited responsive actions) concerning their health
(Hanoch et al., 2018), which may indicate why older well owners are less inclined to investigate their
supply (in addition to physical capability). However, respondents with young children (15.4% of
respondents in total) might be expected to display significantly greater awareness than others,
reinforcing Lavallee et al.’s (2021) recommendation that local physicians and healthcare services
play a significantly increased, integrated role in communicating supply risk where feasible.
Cluster analysis
The significantly higher overall awareness score demonstrated by male well owners does not
have precedent nationally (Hynds et al., 2013); however, this finding is reflected in Lavallee et al.’s
(2021) study in Canada and other, less comprehensive studies of well user awareness across North
America identified by Munene & Hall (2019). Previous studies analysing the delineation of household
labour with respect to gender have established that mechanical and maintenance-oriented tasks
requiring technical knowledge are typically executed by male householders, which may explain the
higher levels of supply awareness exhibited by male well owners (Altintas, 2009). Conversely, female
householders (particularly female household heads) have been found to more frequently display
pro-environmental behaviours and knowledge in other environmental health contexts (Strapko et
al., 2016). The role of gender and associated cultural norms with respect to groundwater
stewardship has yet to be sufficiently investigated in both developed and developing country
contexts (Ternes, 2018). However, recent findings by McDowell et al. (2020) in the ROI identified
appreciably higher awareness levels among male private well owners with respect to supply
maintenance requirements in the event of flooding. While these findings mirror gender-based
knowledge differences in the current study, further research exploring gender roles and the
potential impact of social and household dynamics with respect to private well management will be
necessary to establish legitimate trends and elucidate the relationship between gender and supply
awareness.
Cluster analysis and subsequent cluster membership modelling within well owner and young
adult subsets revealed both similarities and discrepancies with respect to awareness levels and
associated predictors on the basis of gender. Male respondents in both subsets displayed
considerably greater confidence in their ability to maintain their supply irrespective of awareness
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level. This may indicate a gender-based predilection for maintenance and designation of household
tasks, as outlined by Altintas (2009). A significantly greater proportion of female well owners
reported recent occurrence of gastrointestinal illness than male well owners, which may further
reinforce gender roles among parents as outlined by Lavallee et al. (2021). In the case where a
gastrointestinal illness is identified, female householders may be more inclined to self-educate with
respect to well maintenance than male householders, indicating a further gender-specific
opportunity for engagement. High awareness female well owners, meanwhile, were significantly
more likely to have a postgraduate degree than both low awareness female well owners and male
well owners. As such, education and household health may represent central control points
governing supply awareness among females and merit attention in future interventions. As higher
degrees of household health awareness on the part of female well owners do not necessarily
translate into higher degrees of supply awareness, gender socialisation and associated norms may
have an inverse effect on private groundwater stewardship. While such research has been
frequently outlined and elucidated in developing nations (Figueroa & Kincaid, 2010), it has received
relatively little consideration in developed regions. In light of the current study’s findings, the theme
of gender represents an important potential research agenda in both groundwater-related studies in
developed nations.
Study limitations
The current study was characterised by a number of limitations relating to respondent
demographics. The authors wish to note that the survey sample is not representative of the ROI with
respect to education and income, as highly educated and high-earning respondents were over-
represented. The relatively low number of respondents below the median annual income bracket
may be attributable to methods of survey dissemination, which was facilitated by a number of rural
interest groups and thus likely to exclude socially disadvantaged and/or unemployed rural private
well owners. As a further consequence of data gathering requirements and study timeline, male
respondents aged 18-24 were somewhat over-represented in the survey. Survey completion bias
was additionally noted based on respondent education, geographical location (province) and supply.
The authors additionally anticipate a degree of recall bias with respect to self-reporting of
EWE experience. While respondents were required to select named EWEs occurring between the
years 2013-2018 to maximise accuracy of reported experience, they may be cognitively inclined to
recall more recent EWEs and concurrently overlook other relevant events.
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5. Conclusion
The current study sought to characterise private well management awareness and identify
the role of unique experiential and demographic variables in determining well user awareness levels.
Awareness levels were compared between well owner and student age well users to establish
important generational differences and discern future knowledge trajectories in an era characterized
by increased groundwater contamination risk. Current awareness levels among private well owners
were not found to deviate significantly from prior national and international findings. Identified
knowledge gaps pertaining to supply structural characteristics pathogenic supply contamination
have been mirrored in other developed countries such as Canada and North America and thus merit
a critical concern in future groundwater risk interventions. The significant difference in awareness
score between young adults and well owners also has historical precedent and further indicates that
heightened risk of private groundwater contamination and exposure to pathogenic contaminants via
EWEs has not translated to sufficient engagement among both young adults and those in middle-
and late-stage adulthood. The discrepancy in awareness scores between the two studied subsets (in
addition to the significance of residential tenure-related variables such as age, education and
household size) indicates supply awareness greatly increases upon homeownership and household
responsibility for private well maintenance. While awareness scores observed among adults (i.e. well
owners) may be yet to reach levels conducive to sufficient supply maintenance, they are indicative
of the significance of full adulthood in necessitating greater cognizance of supply integrity.
Other significant variables within the current study such as self-perceived confidence in
maintaining supply and well use characteristics (e.g. agricultural well use) may also be linked with
tenure at current property. Cluster analysis highlighted the role of both cognitive and supply-specific
variables with respect to awareness level and gender (in addition to household health and
education). Accordingly, socio-demographic and experiential variables associated with gender and
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purchase of residential property relative to private well installation may represent significant nexus
points for subsequent interventions seeking to highlight private groundwater contamination risk.
While EWE experience was not found to impact awareness among integrated and separate
respondent subsets or clusters analysed in the study, more frequent, concerted elucidations of the
risks posed by extreme weather in the future may contribute to a gradual rise in supply awareness.
As increased media coverage of EWEs has coincided with a gradual rise in risk perception, increased
education pertaining to climate change adaptation and consequent maintenance behaviours may
precipitate greater awareness of EWE risk mitigation.
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Appendix
Table 1: Respondent EWE experience and recent history of household illness.
Variable
Total answered
Categories
Frequency (%)
All
(n = 560)
Well owners
(n = 399)
Students
(n = 161)
Experienced recent EWE
Experienced drought event
Experienced flood event
Experienced heavy rainfall event
Experienced snowfall event
Observed post-event change(s) *
Household illness in last 12 months
515
515
515
515
515
282
535
Yes
No
Yes
No
Yes
No
Yes
No
Yes
No
Yes
No
Yes
No
282 (54.8%)
233 (45.2%)
168 (32.6%)
347 (67.4%)
67 (13.0%)
448 (87.0%)
137 (26.6)
378 (73.4)
155 (30.1)
360 (69.9)
109 (38.7)
173 (61.3)
70 (13.1)
465 (86.9)
189 (51.8)
176 (48.2)
102 (27.9)
263 (72.1)
45 (12.3)
320 (87.7)
99 (27.1)
266 (72.9)
119 (32.6)
246 (67.4)
58 (30.7)
131 (69.3)
50 (12.9)
337 (87.1)
93 (62.0)
57 (38.0)
66 (44.0)
84 (56.0)
22 (14.7)
128 (85.3)
38 (25.3)
112 (74.7)
36 (24.0)
114 (76.0)
51 (54.8)
42 (45.2)
20 (13.5)
128 (86.5)
* Respondents who experienced recent event
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Table 2: Respondent concern about climate change impacts on groundwater quality and self-
perceived efficacy in maintaining supply.
Variable
Total answered 1
Categories
Frequency (%)
All
(n = 560)
Well owners
(n = 399)
Students
(n = 161)
Concern about
climate change
Confidence in
maintaining
well
515
472
Concerned
Neither concerned nor unconcerned
Unconcerned
Confident
Neither confident nor unconfident
Not confident
278 (54.0)
139 (27.0)
98 (19.0)
185 (37.2)
227 (45.7)
60 (12.1)
203 (55.6)
92 (25.2)
70 (19.2)
136 (39.7)
157 (45.8)
50 (14.6)
75 (50.0)
47 (31.3)
28 (18.7)
49 (38.0)
70 (54.3)
10 (7.8)
Table 3: Cronbach’s alpha scores per awareness domain categories among all respondents (n =
560).
Scored domain
Variable categories
Component variables
Cronbach’s alpha
Awareness
Physical well characteristics
Well age, well depth, well features
0.641
Well maintenance history
Well water treatment, well water testing
0.412
Pathogenic well contaminantion
Pathogens found in wells, pathogen sources
0.862
All
0.770
Table 4: Cronbach’s alpha scores per awareness domain categories among well owners (n = 399).
Scored domain
Variable categories
Component variables
Cronbach’s alpha
Awareness
Physical well characteristics
Well age, well depth, well status
0.629
Well maintenance history
Well water treatment, well water testing
0.515
Pathogenic well contamination
Pathogens found in wells, pathogen sources
0.855
All
0.741
Table 5: Cronbach’s alpha scores per awareness domain categories among young adults (n = 161).
Scored domain
Variable categories
Component variables
Cronbach’s alpha
Awareness
Physical well characteristics
Well age, well depth, well status
0.619
Well maintenance history
Well water treatment, well water testing
0.194
Pathogenic well contamination
Pathogens found in wells, pathogen sources
0.856
All
0.761
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Table 6: Associations between survey completion and respondent characteristics.
Variable
Survey completion (up to and including Section 3)
Yes (n = 560)
No (n = 205)
Test statistic 1
p value
Total answered
Frequency (%)
Total answered
Frequency (%)
Geographic location (province)
Connacht
Leinster
Munster
Ulster
560
60 (10.7)
250 (44.6)
212 (37.9)
38 (6.8)
103
21 (20.4)
41 (39.8)
28 (27.2)
13 (12.6)
13.717
0.003
Gender
Male
Female
Age
18-24 years
25-34 years
35-44 years
45-54 years
55-64 years
> 65 years
Education
Primary/secondary school
University/vocational degree
Postgraduate (MA/PhD)
Income
€0-25,000
€25,000-50,000
553
560
536
440
293 (53.0)
260 (47.0)
150 (26.8)
65 (11.6)
111 (19.8)
115 (20.5)
91 (16.3)
28 (5.0)
168 (31.3)
251 (46.8)
117 (21.8)
32 (7.3)
113 (25.7)
81
83
78
80
37 (45.7)
44 (54.3)
21 (25.3)
7 (8.4)
18 (21.7)
16 (19.3)
16 (19.3)
5 (6.0)
29 (37.2)
25 (32.1)
24 (30.8)
9 (11.3)
16 (20.0)
1.510
1.437
6.401
2.505
0.219
0.920
0.041
0.644
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€50,000-75,000
€75,000-100,000
> €100,000
Homeownership
Own
Rent
Well connection
Individual household
Group water scheme
560
560
112 (25.5)
92 (20.9)
91 (20.7)
542 (96.8)
18 (3.2)
488 (87.1)
72 (12.9)
101
205
19 (23.8)
18 (22.5)
18 (22.5)
96 (95.0)
5 (5.0)
150 (73.2)
55 (26.8)
0.768
21.159
0.381
< 0.001
1 Chi-square test
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Figure 1: Non-significant associations between overall awareness score and socio-demographics, well use characteristics and cognitive factors among all
respondents (n = 560).
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Figure 2: Non-significant associations between overall awareness score and socio-demographics, well use characteristics and cognitive factors among
well owner age respondents (n = 399).
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Credit Author Statement
Simon Mooney Methodology, Software, Validation, Data Collection, Formal Analysis, Writing
Original Draft; Jean O’Dwyer: Conceptualisation, Supervision, Funding Acquisition, Writing
Review/Editing; Paul Hynds: Conceptualisation, Supervision, Funding Acquisition, Writing
Review/Editing
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Declaration of interests
The authors declare that they have no known competing financial interests or personal
relationships that could have appeared to influence the work reported in this paper.
The authors declare the following financial interests/personal relationships which may be
considered as potential competing interests:
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Graphical abstract
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Article
Full-text available
Complex, multihazard risks such as private groundwater contamination necessitate multiannual risk reduction actions including seasonal, weather-based hazard evaluations. In the Republic of Ireland (ROI), high rural reliance on unregulated private wells renders behavior promotion a vital instrument toward safeguarding household health from waterborne infection. However, to date, pathways between behavioral predic-tors remain unknown while latent constructs such as extreme weather event (EWE) risk perception and self-efficacy (perceived behavioral competency) have yet to be sufficiently explored. Accordingly, a nationwide survey of 560 Irish private well owners was conducted, with structural equation modeling (SEM) employed to identify underlying relationships determining key supply management behaviors. The pathway analysis (SEM) approach was used to model three binary outcomes: information seeking , post-EWE action, and well testing behavior. Upon development of optimal models, perceived self-efficacy emerged as a significant direct and/or indirect driver of all three behavior types-demonstrating the greatest indirect effect (β = −0.057) on adoption of post-EWE actions and greatest direct (β = 0.222) and total effect (β = 0.245) on supply testing. Perceived self-efficacy inversely influenced EWE risk perception in all three models but positively influenced supply awareness (where present). Notably, the presence of a vulnerable (infant and/or elderly) household member negatively influenced adoption of post-EWE actions (β = −0.131, p = 0.016). Results suggest that residential and age-related factors constitute key demographic variables influencing risk mitigation and are strongly mediated by cognitive variables-particularly self-efficacy. Study findings may help contextualize predictors of private water supply management, providing a basis for future risk-based water interventions.
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