Partner Blog

The Force Behind our Spanish Language Program

Forward by Steve Wilson:

About 4 years ago, we realized there was a need for Spanish language materials for the Private Well Class. Being at the University of Illinois and as an alum of the Civil Engineering program, I reached out to a professor I knew, Dr. Marcelo Garcia, to ask if he knew of any native Spanish speaking grad students that might be interested in working with us to translate our materials. He introduced me to Santiago Santacruz, a PhD student from Columbia who was here on a Fulbright and was really interested in what we wanted to do. Santiago was engaging, intelligent, and shared that one of his frustrations were technical materials that were poorly translated from English. He pointed out a number of examples of inappropriate translation and after our first meeting, I knew we had found the perfect person to help us. Santiago translated not only the class text, but also all of the figures in the text, and did an amazing job. Since then, he has worked on videos, conducted webinars, among other things.

Then, about 2 years ago, Ana Chara and Santiago got married. Ana was working on her PhD at the University of British Columbia. When she was finished she moved here and as Santiago’s student responsibilities changed, she was able to start working for us as well. By now, others had seen the work that Santiago had completed and we were asked if we could support other translation activities. The most exciting being the translation of 6 water operator videos, developed by the Rural Community Assistance Partnership, into Spanish. Ana did an amazing job, not only did she translate the videos, but she also had to memorize lines and be on camera to replace the English speaker in the original videos. She was a natural. She also developed a Spanish language video for homeowners on how to sample for lead, for a specific research project going on at the University.

We have relied on Santiago and Ana for so many things, they have been wonderful to work with. So, today, I wanted to share more of their story with everyone involved with the class. Santiago is finishing his PhD this summer and he and Ana will be going back home to Columbia in the near future. I can’t say enough how great they have been to work with, how much they have meant to our program, and how much they will be missed. They are both intelligent, driven people who I feel so lucky to have known. We all wish them the best.

Below, Katie asked them to answer a few questions that provide more detail about their Private Well Class work that gives you a better feel about who they are and some ideas and things to consider if you plan to translate your materials. At the end of the post are links to the Private Well Class Spanish materials, as well as the videos for water operators on operation and maintenance issues.


Q: Tell us a little bit about yourselves:

[Santiago]: I’m a Civil Engineer from Colombia. I am currently working on my PhD in Hydraulics at U of I. Water will always be a key topic for any society, it could be either a blessing or great threat. I want to help to facilitate access to clean water, protect communities from floods and droughts, and to guarantee that future generations can also benefit from healthy streams, wetlands, aquifers, and beaches.

[Ana]: I’m a Colombian Biologist with a M.Sc. in Aquatic Sciences from the University of Michigan, and a Ph.D. in Freshwater Ecology from the University of British Columbia. I am interested in studying how human activities impact freshwater ecosystems and water resources, in order to facilitate the development of strategies to protect them.

Q: How did you get initially become involved with Spanish translation for the Private Well Class and Water Operator at the Illinois State Water Survey?

[Santiago]: I heard of this opportunity through my adviser, Prof. M. H. Garcia. It was a nice opportunity to help many that speak my language, to empower them by facilitating access to valuable information on their own well system.

Q: You were both involved in many facets of the program. What were some of the things that each of you had to do?

[Santiago]: My first task was to translate the entire Manual for Homeowners with Water Wells. I participated in a couple Live Webinars in Spanish, help to setup the Spanish website for the Private Well Class project. I also had to learn how to record audios, and edit videos for over 15 videoclips we translated to Spanish.

[Ana]: I helped with the translation of the video clips Santiago mentioned above and also had the great opportunity of participating in the shooting of the Spanish version of six RCAP videos. Recently, I participated in the translation of guidelines (videos, instruction sheets) for the collection of lead (Pb) samples.


Q: Of all the projects that you assisted with, what did you enjoy the most?

[Ana]: The experience of shooting the RCAP videos was definitely my favorite. I’m used to public speaking, but being the presenter in a video was completely new for me. It was a lot of fun!

Q: What do you think is the #1 problem of programs that attempt dual language content?

[Santiago]: In the US, the lack of detailed and specific materials compared to English content you can easily find in the websites of local and federal agencies. It’s a pity we suggest our Spanish audience to check out more details on a document that is in English, without even having technical dictionary to translate some concepts or names.


Q: What is your take-home-message for programs using a bilingual approach to their content?

[Ana]: Getting help from a native speaker who also has a basic understanding of the topic is crucial. There are many technical words and concepts that may not be translated accurately if one does not have a technical understanding of the subject matter. Computer translations are far from doing a job that reads/sound natural, and gets worse for special topics like groundwater and wells.


Q: When did you personally feel the most challenged when working on our projects?

[Santiago]: Finding the most accepted name or expression for a technical name. Spanish is a rich and diverse language, spoken by an entire continent. For instance, tap is commonly referred as grifo in Mexico, llave in Colombia, and canilla in Argentina. But canilla is shin in Colombia.

[Ana]: I agree with Santiago. Even among Latin American Spanish speakers there are huge differences in usage of words and even the tone. One thing we struggled often with was deciding whether to use usted or tu in our translations. Both words mean you but the first is more formal and respectful, which would be the default in countries like Colombia. However, in many other Latin American countries like Mexico, people may prefer to use tu. It is a subtle difference and both forms would be understood, but we wanted to make sure the translations sounded as natural as possible to our intended audience.


Q: What is your opinion regarding the need for a correctly translated Spanish versions of documents for water resource and private well related issues?

[Santiago]: Private well is the main water supply for millions in the US. Education and training on water wells help these people to reduce the risk of waterborne diseases, but more importantly to keep the aquifers safe for everybody, not only for Spanish speakers. Nobody trust a poorly written document, because instructions are not clear, but ambiguous and cause confusions, which is completely opposite to its purpose. For many well owner that feel more confident in Spanish than in English, this is a great way to reach them out, and assist them to help us all to keep our aquifers in good conditions.


Q: What do you think is the best way of reaching the Spanish speaking communities in the U.S.?

[Ana]: Providing good quality materials in Spanish is a great strategy. Language may be an important barrier for people, especially when it comes to technical material. The effort to translate this important information and making it available for free is a good starting point to reach these communities.


Q: For the duration of your time working on projects with the Illinois State Water Survey and, did anything surprise you or did you learn anything unexpected?

[Santiago]: I realized how limited is the information for non-English speakers, and it was surprising how little content was available even in States where the Spanish-speaking population is very large. But also was a nice surprise to know that the ISWS at U of I is doing such a great effort to assist all these well-owners on their own language.

[Ana]: I was surprised to learn there is such a big portion of the population depending on private wells for their water supply in the States. I was even more surprised to find out private well owners are mostly on their own when it comes to the operation and maintenance of their water systems. That is why the work ISWS is doing to support and train private well owners is so important!


Spanish Language Resources: 

The Spanish Language Private Well Class – 

Spanish Private Well videos (YouTube playlist) – 

RCAP Spanish Water Operator Videos: 

- Protección de la Calidad del Agua en el Sistema de Distribución 
- Inspección Periódica de un Reservorio de Agua 
- Calidad del Agua en Instalaciones de Almacenamiento 
- Buenas Prácticas para el Muestreo de Coliformes 
- Medición del Cloro Residual 
- Inspección y Vaciado

Advice from 2018’s Pledge to Test Winner

The Private Well Class celebrated 2018’s National Groundwater Awareness Week with the 3rd annual Pledge to Test campaign. Well owners were invited to pledge to get their well water tested. One participant was randomly selected to be reimbursed for the cost of testing the private well water at their residence, up to $200.

The randomly selected winner was Chad H. from Bellevue, WA. Chad owns a cabin that has a private well. We wanted to find out what Chad’s water testing experience was like and what sort of challenges he faced. Chad had his well water tested at AM Test Laboratories in Kirkland, WA.


Q: How did you hear about the Pledge to Test campaign from The Private Well Class?

CH: I heard about it via your Partner Newsletter.

Q: What made you interested in testing your private well water?

CH: I was concerned about family health and safety. I grew up on farms in the Midwest and had well water. With all the chemicals used on the farm ground, testing was something that was done, but not routinely, due to access to sample testing locations.

Q: What was the most challenging thing about collecting the sample or getting the test bottles?

CH: The most challenging thing was the about taking a sample was the proximity to the water testing laboratory. It is over 3 hours away from the house we had sampled. The house is cabin of ours.

Q: What was one thing about taking a sample that surprised you?

CH: Nothing really surprised me when taking this sample.

Q: After you received the results, was there anything that you changed in your home? Like adding a filtration system?

CH: Our water tests came back negative, meaning nothing was needed for system changes. Our current system includes a sediment filter.

Q: What piece of advice would you tell other private well owners about testing their well water, other than to get it tested?

CH: I would recommend setting up a routine, like when changing clocks and/or smoke alarm batteries as a reminder. It is easy to forget about, especially if nothing is noticed regarding the taste or smell of home. Testing is easy, although can be potentially expensive due to proximity to lab(s) and/or testing fees.

Celebrating Earth Day with the Peoria Clean Water Celebration

On April 23, Ken Hlinka, Katie Buckley, and Hideyuki Terashima represented the Illinois State Water Survey at the 26th SUN Foundation Clean Water Celebration in Peoria, IL. The Sun Foundation for the Advancement on the Environmental Sciences and Arts is organized exclusively for education, scientific, and charitable purposes. The event took place in the Peoria Civic Center from 9:00AM to 2:00PM where 337 volunteers from 39 groups, organizations, and agencies were represented, including the Illinois EPA, The Dickson Mounds Museum, Girl Scouts of America, Living Lands and Waters, and more. The event was attended by 2,043 students and 153 adults from 37 different schools.

ISWS staff described the water cycle, demonstrated how groundwater moves under the ground using two different sand tank models, and demonstrated a hand pump for the middle schoolers in attendance. Students were asked about the water cycle, which many students were already familiar with, so they were encouraged to describe the parts of the cycle on their own before the focus was turned to groundwater. Using the two groundwater flow models, a Septic System Simulator and Groundwater Flow Simulator, they described how groundwater and contaminants flow through the ground. Using colored dye, they showed how contamination can flow towards private wells. The take home message really resonated with some of the students as they asked questions and wanted to experiment with different contamination scenarios. For the hand pump demonstration, the setup showed where water comes from and staff described the parts of the well. 

For this event, students were given a set of questions that they had to get answered at each booth as they walked through the exhibit hall. Our questions were: 

1. Water flows through the ground like _______ flows through a wire.

2. What should a private well owner do every year? Each student had to pay attention to the demonstration to get the answers they needed.

Events like the Clean Water Celebration are a unique opportunity to share information with students in an engaging and memorable way that they won’t get in the classroom. If you have an event list this in your area, we encourage you to participate and share your knowledge of private well and groundwater issues. If not, consider developing a stakeholder group to put one on. Private well and groundwater issues are not common curriculum in most schools, events like these can leave a lasting impression on a young student, especially if they live on a private well.

Hideyuki Terashima said, “I could tell that with some of the kids, it really just clicked. Seeing them experience groundwater hands-on really resonated with them."

Fairs, Festivals, and Farmers Markets - Oh My!

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It’s no surprise that private well owners, in general, are hard to reach. This is because they can come from every social, economic, and educational demographic. The Private Well Class is always interested in how private well partners reach out to well owners in their area. We asked Alyson McCann about how she reaches well owners with her private well program.

But first, a little bit about Alyson; Alyson McCann is the Cooperative Extension Water Quality Coordinator in the College of Environment and Life Sciences at the University of Rhode Island. She has over 25 years of experience developing and delivering local, regional and national programs focused on water resource protection for a variety of audiences, the impact of which has been to affect behavior change to achieve public and environmental health protection. She has a history of effectively coordinating community and governmental engagement activities working with local, state, regional and federal partners to achieve water quality protection. Her work most notably focuses on private drinking water well protection; collaborating with the Rhode Island Department of Health and local communities to provide residents with the tools and resources needed to protect their drinking water quality; and providing technical assistance to private well owners to facilitate action to protect their health, their families’ health and the environment. She has developed numerous private well protection tip sheets and provides educational programs and technical assistance to both well owners and professional audiences. Program materials are audience-tested with focus groups and interviews to achieve clear communication that results in measured program impacts and audience behavior change.

McCann is also a member of URI’s GeoSpatial Extension Program and develops and trains professionals in the use of geospatial technologies and Geographic Information Systems (GIS). She is currently a reviewer for the Journal of Extension. She has worked with and mentored numerous graduate and undergraduate students.

What made you decide to promote your program during the Rhode Island farmer’s markets and fairs?

AM: We dedicated program efforts to an intensive Intercept Campaign as a pilot project in 2015 and have continued to expand and build upon these efforts to increase our effectiveness. In addition to offering community workshops - where people have to come to us - we wanted to be in places where people are already going – they didn’t need to make a special effort to interact with us. Community farmers markets, fairs and festivals seemed like a logical place to start. A team of well-trained undergraduate Coastal Fellow students attend 2 – 3 community events and farmers markets weekly with our private well water display. Table 1 summarizes the number of events and number of people interacted with at these events. In 2017, we expanded upon the “Intercept Campaign” and piloted a facilitated well water testing kit pick up, where we distributed annual test kits from the RI State Health Lab and scheduled 4 community pick ups at which private well owners could return their well water sample, payment and paperwork to us and we would deliver the samples to the lab in Providence, RI. Since this program addition, we have seen an increase in the number of private well owners who have their drinking water well tested.

Table 1: Intercept Campaign Summary, 2015-2017


Number of Events Attended

Number of private well owners interacted with

Number of people who returned a water sample to us for transport to RI State Health Lab













* Facilitated testing not offered until 2017 pilot program.

How many events have you done and do you plan on doing more next summer?

AM: Please see Table 1 above. We are currently continuing this effort in 2018 attending winter markets, the RI Home Show and other community events. We are in the planning stages for summer efforts right now.

Have you formed any meaningful partnerships as a result of these outreach efforts?

AM: Absolutely! We make it a point to interact and stay in touch with market and event coordinators. We get invited back and the organizers of these events appreciate our participation. In addition, we are invited to participate in other community events.

In your opinion, how successful have you been at these events and how many water test kits did you give away?

AM: They are very successful. As you can see from Table 1 – we talk with lots of private well owners, many of who sign up for our quarterly newsletter and attend a local workshop. We plan to expand our water test kit efforts this summer. In addition, it is a highly successful opportunity for our undergraduate students. They receive fabulous training and experience interacting with people and providing education and technical assistance. Once our students are trained, we visit them at these events throughout the summer – checking in to see how they are doing, answering any of their concerns, etc. We also have weekly meetings scheduled to discuss how things are going in the field.

What has been the biggest challenge promoting your program at these events?

AM: It takes a few years to determine what events are most productive – meaning that community members are interested in the information we are providing and that the event is well attended.

What would you tell an organization who is considering participating in a farmer’s market or other local event in this manner?

AM: Make sure the event is in an area where your target audience is. You often have to give an event more than one try before determining if it is worth the time and effort to be there. Have fun. Typically, your audience is out to enjoy themselves at these events and if you can too, all the better.

Why Sometimes Newer Isn’t Always Better: Minnesota Department of Health’s Well Disinfection Guide

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We always receive questions from homeowners across the country on how to properly disinfect a private well. There are many different private well disinfection guides available for private well owners through many public health, extension and state organizations across the U.S. The Private Well Class has used the Minnesota Department of Health’s Well Disinfection guide in our 10-week class and in our Resource Library. After careful review of all of the information on well disinfection available, our opinion is that the MDH guide is one of the best and most complete available.

However, in 2015, MDH updated the 2012 “Well and Water System Disinfection for Private Wells,” with a newer, shorter “Well Disinfection” guide. Honestly, we were disappointed in the new guide because in making it shorter, they also took out some of the details that made their guide so complete. The bottom line is that we are still referring private well owners to the 2012 version of the document in our resource library and in our lessons. The step-by-step process hasn’t changed much between the two, but the supporting information has. The content in the 2012 version is not only more in-depth, but it provides more background information that tells you why you are doing something in the process instead of just how to do it. It clearly explains what disinfection is and what might cause contamination of the well and water system.

The 2012 version addresses two important questions about disinfection, “How Often Should a Well be Tested?” and “When Should a Well be Disinfected?” It provides sound advice, some of which is missing in the newer version. Understanding when to disinfect is an important issue, we often talk to private well owners who have/are disinfecting their well when it is not necessary.

The only time you should disinfect your well is after sampling indicates you have bacteria. Testing should be completed annually, as well as any time the well has been opened, or there has been an event that has impacted your well (after a flood, fire, repairs, etc.).

The Minnesota Department of Health’s Well Management Program stands out as a leader among their peers and we often refer well owners to their materials. We thought it worth noting that though we like the older version of their well disinfection guide better, we rely on many of their materials to support well owners all over the country. You can find their website at:

Well and Water System Disinfection for Private Wells (2012 version)

Well Disinfection (2015 version)


Our Partners Speak! January Partner Poll

In our January Partner Newsletter we asked our subscribers to answer the following question:

“Should coliform bacteria sample results be provided to well owners as presence/absence or a quantified number of colonies?”

We received eight responses:

Quantify the results





Most coliform bacteria are not harmful, but they are an indicator for the potential presence of pathogens. When coliform bacteria are present in a private well water supply, there is a possible contamination pathway for a source of bacteria (surface water, septic system, animal waste, etc.) or other contaminant into your well. In other words, harmful bacteria may use this same pathway to enter your drinking water supply.

When coliform are present in a water supply, a follow-up test for E. coli is typically recommended. E. coli are the best indicator of potential health hazards, as they are only found in the gut and feces of warm-blooded animals. (To learn more about the basics of coliform bacteria, this guide from the New York Department of Health is helpful.)

The presence/absence test is simple, inexpensive, and goes by the theory that any coliform indicates a potential breach in the well. So if present, disinfect and don’t drink the water until the test comes back negative.

The camp that believes you should quantify the number of colonies thinks that understanding the magnitude of the contamination provides a better understanding of the possible causes. So, as one of our respondents noted, having one colony vs. hundreds certainly tells you something more than a presence/absence test.

The following response best sums up the argument from a public health perspective:

“There are some wells in our county that will continuously come back with a result of 1 (colony) test after test and shocking after shocking. There are also some wells that routinely come back over the maximum quantification level even after shocking. I feel like these two wells are completely different situations. The first well appears to have minor contamination while the second well has major contamination. Yes, they both pose a risk, but very few things are perfect in this world. I would be much more comfortable drinking out of the first well than the second well. Without quantification, there is no way to tell the difference between these two wells. If someone has repeated low levels of bacteria, I would recommend retesting more frequently to see how it changes; whereas the second well I would encourage them to talk to a contractor about rehabilitating the well or repairing the well system.”

The real take-home message from this exercise, at least based on the 8 responses we received, was that this is a confusing issue. Several responses mentioned bacteria being found miles below the earth for instance, and several assumed we were talking about fecal coliform in our question (E. coli), when we were not. We were asking about the total coliform test that is a requirement for community water supplies and considered the standard approach to judging the safety of a well from near-surface contamination.

Regarding the bacteria found at depth issue, bacteria are ubiquitous in our environment, indeed, but they are not all coliform bacteria. Iron bacteria, sulfate-reducing bacteria, and methanogenic bacteria, for instance, are all found in aquifers in Illinois. They actually help us understand other issues, like the reducing condition of the water in an aquifer, but they do not cause health issues. Several respondents seemed to think that all bacteria are a health risk; this is not the case.

Regarding the total coliform vs. fecal coliform vs. E. coli issue, testing for total coliform bacteria is a simple way to determine possible exposure to pathogens. The idea is to test for total coliform first because it’s easier and cheaper. Then, if there is a positive result, test for E. coli. We could have made this clearer, for sure, but for those who work with these results daily, the debate over a positive result versus a quantifiable result was the issue we were hoping to explore.

We were leaning more into the presence/absence camp when we started five years ago, to be honest. After all, any coliform means there could be a risk, and that is still true. But after hearing from many professionals, including at our conference last May, about the value of knowing the magnitude of the exposure, we are now leaning the other way. Both certainly have value, but, quantifying the test result does give you more information and provides value in making a decision.

If you would still like to chime in with your thoughts and opinions, we would love to hear from you. Take the poll

Educating Real Estate Professionals with Daphne Pee

Reaching and educating real estate professionals on properties with private wells and septic systems is one thing that the Private Well Class has been trying to accomplish within the past few years. Real estate professionals who are well-versed on buying and selling homes with private wells and septic systems are great assets and a good source of information for potential home buyers and sellers. We reached out to Daphne Pee of the Chesapeake Water and Septic Homeowners Education project to find out what it was like working directly with real estate professionals in Maryland. Daphne filled us in on some of her past experiences.

Q: Daphne, what is your position and role in the Chesapeake Water and Septic Homeowners Education project?:

DP: I am the coordinator of the Chesapeake Water and Septic Homeowners Education program.

Q: Please describe the program, in general, including how stable and successful the program has been over the years?:

DP: We started with a 2-year pilot program in 2012 with a mix of internal funding, a few small grants, and in-kind support from the Maryland Department of Health. Our program was modeled off of Virginia Tech’s Drinking Water Clinic, which consists of three meetings:

• Kick-off Meeting: Basic overview of the program, pass out the sampling bottles and surveys, and instruct the homeowners on how to collect their water sample.
• Water Drop-off: Homeowners drop off their water samples and surveys.
• Informational Meeting: Educational presentation which includes information about the homeowners’ drinking water source, how it can get contaminated, how their wells work, what they can do to protect their drinking water, and what they should be testing for and how often. 

The pilot program consisted of five clinics. Afterwards, we could not find a larger, more dedicated source of funding to launch the program more broadly. We then partnered with Virginia Tech to offer a more comprehensive water test, at a fee that was much less expensive than commercial water testing labs, but the cost was still too high and we got no registrants. This year, we have started conducting free, 1.5-hour seminars that covers most of the information from the clinics, but does not include water testing.

Q: What was your experience reaching out to the MD Association of Realtors (for your online seminar and article series)? Were they receptive?

DP: A few years ago, I contacted several people in the MD Association of Realtors headquarters and regional groups to introduce our work to them and try to find ways to offer training to their members. No one responded. Last year, a fellow Extension Educator who was also a Realtor sent an email to the MD Association of Realtors about our programming and I was immediately invited by their Director of Communications & Public Affairs to a meeting. We met by phone and I shared more details about the types of information I could provide and was offered a year-long series in their magazine, a webinar, and a series of infographics for their consumer-facing webpages. While their initial reception was encouraging, I have not heard much about the articles or webinar. I plan on following up with them after this last article is submitted.

Q: What has been your biggest challenge with reaching new audiences with the Chesapeake Water and Septic Homeowners Education program?

DP: The clinics and seminar cater to a very specific audience who has the interest in learning about their wells and drinking water, and the time and energy to attend a session on Saturday morning. So, our participants are typically older, wealthier, and well-educated. Working with the MD Assoc of Realtors was our first time reaching out to professionals. We would like to find a way to continue working with this group, as well as other professionals who need this kind of information and have continuing education requirements. Additionally, we would like to get this information to other homeowners who don’t fit the demographics of our clinic/seminar participants.

Q: In your opinion, what do you feel is the most misunderstood preconception that real estate professionals have about private well water and septic systems?

DP: I’m not sure. My experience thus far has consisted of me talking to them through articles and a webinar. I haven’t had a chance to talk to very many of them through this process.

Q: What sort of limitations have you encountered with your program and working with potential partners?

DP: Capacity has been an issue for us. Our Educators have a lot of demands on their time, so finding people who want to offer this program has taken a while. The topic is not one that naturally fits the expertise of many educators, so I don’t really blame them for not jumping onto the bandwagon. We are lucky that our Program Director for Family Consumer Sciences has been very supportive of our work. We also have several new hires with interest in the program, so we hope to be expanding our capacity this year.

Q: What important piece of advice could you give to other programs looking to work with real estate professionals?

DP: Find a realtor who sees the value in your program and can connect you to the right people in the organization to discuss opportunities to work together.

Jerry Tinoco Discusses Reaching Spanish-Speaking Communities

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The Private Well Class is currently putting effort forth to translate many of our resources to Spanish. The real challenge that we have encountered is getting these resources out the individuals that could really use them. We reached out to Gerardo “Jerry” Tinoco Jr. to interview him about his efforts in predominantly Spanish speaking communities. Jerry is a Rural Development Specialist for the Rural Community Assistance Corporation (RCAC) and currently resides in California. Jerry works with Spanish speaking populations and provides many services in Spanish for private well owners.

Q: What is your current position and role in regards to your program working with Spanish-speaking communities?

JT: Currently I work in various capacities with Spanish speaking communities. I work both in private well related programs as well as in non-private well related programs. For my private well work, I mostly work in educating and outreaching to private well owners. I have conducted private well assessments and water quality sampling for Spanish speaking well owners and plan to hold a private well class for Spanish speaking communities dependent on private well systems. I also translate resources, factsheets, presentations, etc.

Q: What sort of situations do you encounter most often with working with a predominantly Spanish-speaking community that relies on private well water as a primary source of drinking water?:

JT: There is a general lack of basic operation and maintenance with most private well communities, both Spanish speaking and not. People are just unaware about the things they should be doing to not only ensure their well runs efficiently and effectively for a long time, but also what they should do to protect groundwater. Oftentimes, people are renters on properties with private wells and thus never really get invested in the maintenance of their private well system. I think this general lack of knowledge is fairly common in any private well community, Spanish speaking or not.

Q: Can you please highlight some challenges that partners may come across in private well outreach in Spanish-speaking populations?

JT: Unfortunately given the current political climate, I think one of the biggest challenges in working to outreach for private wells in Spanish speaking populations is simply gaining their trust. In working with Spanish speaking populations, one needs to be mindful that some may have a general suspicion of people going to their homes. But aside from that, a common challenge for any private well outreach is conveying the importance to their health and finances that properly operating and maintaining a well system has.

Q: In your experience, what is the best way to raise awareness about private well care in these populations? Does geographical location matter?

JT: In my experience, attending existing/established meetings in communities seems to be a good starting off point to raise awareness. Going to a local PTA meeting, being a guest at adult school classes, attending local organizing group meetings, or local government meetings to give brief presentations to spark people’s interest and convey the importance of well care. Once some interest and trust is established, then I would feel more secure in hosting a private well class and giving them more in depth information as well as maybe doing well assessments. There are of course easier ways, such as an ad in a newspaper or fliers around town, but to me this trust building and getting to know the community is the best.

Q: What sort of partnerships or collaboration that you have been a part of has made reaching out to these folks easier?

JT: As I mentioned before, partnering up with schools, local organizing groups, local non-profits, or any other groups involved in the community to help build that trust to allow the community to familiarize themselves with you and want to have a more in depth discussion about maintaining their private well. I often work with other partner non-profits on projects outside of private wells, but when a working relationship is established they’ll usually invite me out and do the outreach themselves of people interested in learning more about private wells.

Q: Can you describe what you believe to be one of your program’s largest successes?

JT: We are barely starting to focus more of our attention on Spanish speaking well communities so I feel our biggest success is yet to come since we have been mostly working with communities on other issues affecting them. So far they’ve been more isolated examples of success helping individual well owners learn more about their wells, getting people with dry wells low interest loans to drill new wells, or showing new well owners best practices to maintain a healthy well system. I do think simply translating a lot of existing resources and information has really helped as well.

Q: In your opinion, what’s the number one thing that partners can do in order to do a better job of outreach in Spanish-speaking communities?

JT: I think the most important and basic thing anyone can do to increase outreach in Spanish-speaking communities is simply to put resources and a deliberate effort to reach out in Spanish speaking communities. It sounds obvious, but honestly simply just trying will yield results. Often times, outreach efforts are not accessible to Spanish speaking communities or poor/rural areas in general as well. Invitations and fliers will be in English only which already will not get you any Spanish speaking well owners. If the workshops themselves are in English only, that too will deter people from attending. In rural areas, e-vites or online webinars/factsheets may not be accessible to many. So as simple as it sounds I think the number one thing that we can all do is to allocate resources specifically for the purpose of educating Spanish-speaking communities. Put out fliers and invitations in Spanish. Outreach door to door in Spanish. Host Spanish meetings and workshops. Not translated by interpreters, but actually taught and led in Spanish.

Communities Unlimited and Tennessee Department of Health, A Proven Partnership

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Developing meaningful and lasting partnerships are the key to any successful program. This is why we took a deeper look at a partnership that exists between Communities Unlimited and the Tennessee Department of Health. The Private Well Class was able to talk with Judy Manners (left) with the Tennessee Department of Health and Annie Chiodo (right) with Communities Unlimited to understand how their partnership works and what has made them functionally successful over the years. 


Q: Judy, what is your role with Tennessee Department of Health and what does your position entail?: 

JM: I am an Environmental Health Specialist in the Communicable and Environmental Disease Services and Emergency Preparedness Division’s Environmental Epidemiology Program. In this role, I provide consultation and field expertise for our epidemiologists who investigate water related illnesses and serve as the project manager for the CDC grant, SafeWATCH, which is targeted to reduce exposure to untreated drinking water from those using wells or springs as their household residential water supply. Through this grant, we are able to provide a limited number of free water tests to raise awareness about private drinking water quality.

Q:  Annie, what is your role with Communities Unlimited and what does your position entail?:

AC: My role with Communities Unlimited is Operations Management Specialist, and I work in TN with community and non-community water systems under population of 10,000. 

I also have the Private Well Program for Communities Unlimited and focus on four states, which are TN, MS, AL, LA. We have a great team of folks in the states that help me with the program.


Q:  How did the Tennessee Department of Health start working with Communities Unlimited initially?:

JM: Well, it’s funny how all things water are related! I originally met Annie Chiodo when I worked at TDEC Division of Water Resources as an Aquatic Resource Alteration/ §401 Certification permit writer. Being planned was a large road construction project, which would likely impact the public water supply well for a rural Tennessee community, and Annie happened to be the drinking water treatment operator. Needless to say, we had some spirited conversations! 

Fast-forwarding a decade or so, Annie and I had each moved on to our current employers. I was re-introduced to Annie through our partners at the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation’s Division of Water Resources Drinking Water Unit during a training event for well and well water treatment installers. The TDEC Division of Water Resources regulates public water supply, private water well construction and well water treatment installers. We, the TDH, had collaborated with them to include waterborne disease awareness as part of the training program to well installers. TDEC works with Communities Unlimited, Inc. for outreach and technical assistance to non-community public water systems. The Water Resources staff was aware of Annie’s work with well water owners and then, through Annie, I met Dwight Stapleton, Annie’s counterpart for the eastern portions of Tennessee.

Q: What sort of role does Communities Unlimited have with Tennessee Department of Health?: 

AC: We started working together after the Private Well Program rolled out. Judy is fantastic to work with when we get the chance to work together on assessing and testing wells. She has limits on what she can do, and I pick up the rest, and do the follow ups.


Q:  What has been the most valuable attribute that Communities Unlimited has brought to the Tennessee Department of Health?:

JM: Water treatment expertise, assistance in trouble shooting routes of contamination in private water systems and their extensive consultative service. Because Annie and Dwight are water treatment experts they are available to consult with private water well owners regarding specific water treatment needs. Because they are already working in rural parts of our state through their work with The Private and RCAP the breadth of outreach is greatly expanded and through knowledge gained from the well logs they research, the environmental assessment, and their community ties across the state. Having this level of detail for private well users would not be possible without their assistance and it makes our test results much more meaningful to residents.


Q:  What is the most challenging thing to consider when working in collaboration as Communities Unlimited and Tennessee Department of Health are doing?:

AC: Schedules. We have to make sure that we stay on the same page on dates and times, and location where we will meet.

Q:  Is there a common goal that both Communities Unlimited and the Tennessee Department of Health are trying to reach and how do the two organizations assist one another to reach that common goal (if there is one)? If there is no common goal, what are the individual goals of the two organizations?:

JM: Improving health and prosperity by meeting people where they are. The mission of the Tennessee Department of Health is “To protect, promote and improve the health and prosperity of people in Tennessee” and the mission of Communities Unlimited is “to move rural and under-resourced communities in areas of persistent poverty to sustainable prosperity.”  

Communities Unlimited and the Tennessee Department of Health share the goal of improving the prosperity of Tennessee’s rural residents in communities that are often underserved. For private water system users, we share the objective of identifying areas with known well water quality concerns and providing intensive outreach to rural communities or individual families with the purpose of reducing exposures to potentially harmful pathogens or other analytes of health concern.


Q: Can you give an example of some work or an event that you’ve done collaboratively to demonstrate the details on how you work together?: 

AC: Whoever has the information on a well to assess, we coordinate on date and time. I try to get the well log ahead of time. I also pull up a map from Google Earth to see what the terrain is like, nearby streams, lakes, ponds, etc. 

When we arrive at the location, we start pulling water samples from the raw and if possible finished water if they have a treatment system. Meantime I am getting pictures of the well from many directions to see what could possibly impact the well. We start notating the condition of the well head, and get the needed information on the treatment system if they have on, and talk with the well owner about the maintenance they do on the well and/or treatment system. We talk over what we find.  

Judy shares the lab results with me, and sends a very informative letter to the well owner explaining the results. I try to do a follow-up with the well owner to answer any questions they may have.


Q:  Going forward, what sort of accomplishments do you foresee the two organizations achieving in the future?

JM: Ideally, we will publicize our efforts related to private well owners through our websites, outreach materials for home owners, training initiatives; include more collaborators because without our other partners in government, higher education, community groups and buy in from rural residents the sustainable outreach to well or spring water users.


Q:  What sort of advice would you give to other organizations that are considering future collaboration efforts?

AC: Everyone needs to be on the same page, and defining their role in the process. There is research that should be done before going to the well site, and who is going to do that.
The research involves trying to locate the drillers’ log, or well report. Look at the terrain, I use Google Earth to get an idea of what is there, and close to the well location, also on Google Earth you can go back in years to see what was there 10 years or earlier. I then start the file for the individual well with any documentation that I may have. 

Whoever goes out or has a collaboration, needs to understand the importance of proper well construction, and what is happening with a 250’ radius of the well, where is the septic system, and how the grounds around the well head is maintained.

Alaska Stakeholders Step Up

Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation's (ADEC) Hydrologist, Charley Palmer, discusses how stakeholders in Alaska have been voluntarily working together to protect groundwater and raise awareness on various issues and concerns. The Private Well Class met Charley during a webinar that mentioned Alaska's lack of private well regulation. After speaking with him more, we learned that stakeholder groups in Alaska are voluntarily working on best management practices (BMPs) for well construction and decommissioning in the state.

Q:  What is your job title and what does it encompass?:

CP: I’ve been a Hydrologist with the State of Alaska’s Department of Environmental Conservation (ADEC) working in the Drinking Water Program since 2007. ADEC is responsible for ensuring that public water systems meet the requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act. Within the Drinking Water Protection group, my role is to delineate source water protection areas, or where public water system wells get their water from (typically within the watershed), and to assess potential sources of contamination within this boundary. I then communicate the results to the water systems and the public with the intent of encouraging voluntary protection efforts. Some protection efforts are accomplished directly by the water system or the community it serves. However, other protection efforts are passively accomplished by our group through permit recommendations, agency collaboration, developing guidelines, public outreach, etc.

Q:  Alaska is unique in that there is a collaboration of many stakeholders working together to form guidelines. Can you explain more about how and when this started, who the stakeholders are, what the goals are, and where you are in the process?:

CP: Private water wells are different than the public water system wells that ADEC regulates, but they often use water drawn from the same underground source (aquifer); therefore, the matter in which private wells are constructed and maintained can impact nearby public water system wells. In Alaska, there are no statewide standards for private water wells, and only two local authorities, the Municipality of Anchorage and the City of North Pole, have regulatory code for private wells. Additionally, there are no requirements for groundwater professionals (i.e. well contractors, engineers, hydrologists, etc.) to have specialized water well knowledge or experience. As a result, there had been a growing concern by many stakeholders that the lack of statewide standards and proof of qualifications has led to an increasing risk to groundwater protection. 

In October 2012, ADEC facilitated an open public discussion in three different cities in Alaska, among potential stakeholders regarding issues and concerns with water wells and perceived impacts to groundwater sources. The purpose of the discussion was to raise awareness of issues and concerns and determine whether an interest existed to find solutions. In general agreement, stakeholders volunteered to participate in workgroup meetings and the Groundwater Protection and Water Wells stakeholder workgroup was formed. The first workgroup meeting was March 2013. The workgroup currently includes stakeholders from state agencies (staff from ADEC and the Alaska Dept. of Natural Resources (ADNR)), as well as water well contractors (drillers and pump installers), hydrologists, engineers, public water system owner/operators, water testing lab professionals, and private citizens. Meetings were held roughly monthly during the generally slower construction season (October through March). 

The workgroup first acknowledged that there was not a centralized location for existing and future private well owners to find information relevant to Alaska. By spring 2014, we had collaborated to create the Alaska Private Drinking Water Wells & Systems web site containing information compiled from across the state and nation as it relates to private drinking water wells.

Next the workgroup began tackling water well construction and decommissioning (see discussion in following answers).

Q:  Can you describe the policy differences between the well decommissioning BMPs and the well construction BMPs?

CP: At the time the workgroup began, the ADEC Drinking Water regulations for public water systems, 18 AAC 80.015(e), adopted by reference copyright-protected water well decommissioning methods that applied to all types of water wells (including private wells), but were too generalized, not specific to Alaska’s conditions, and difficult to access. By June 2016, the workgroup thoughtfully developed the “Alaska Best Management Practices (BMPs) for Maintaining or Decommissioning Water Wells and Boreholes”, which take into account Alaska’s unique remoteness and natural conditions. Effective July 2016, an ADEC internal directive was issued to accept these BMPs as an approved alternate method. These BMPs are intended to be applied to the maintenance or decommissioning of all water wells and boreholes (public and non-public) in Alaska .

Also by June 2016, the workgroup completed the “Alaska Best Management Practices for the Construction of Non-Public (private) Water Wells”. At this time, these remain BMPs (are not tied to any regulations) and are intended to be referred to by the public and other agencies when installing or maintaining an existing or future private well.

Together, these BMPs balance protecting groundwater and public health with practices that are economically sustainable and can be applied statewide.   

Q:  What sort of response have you received from working voluntarily with so many other stakeholders?

CP: Since the release of the BMPs in June 2016, the ADEC staff that participated in the workgroup have made a strong effort to publicize their existence and seek feedback. Presumably because of their more accessible and applicable nature, we’ve been receiving records of decommissioning using the methods in the BMP regularly. Also, we’ve seen an increase in contacts regarding private well construction information, again presumably because of the information being more accessible, and it has given staff an efficient resource to refer the public.

Q:  What has been the biggest win so far? What has been the largest challenges or hurdles?

CP: There have been several wins, including making information more accessible to the public and crafting practices that work in Alaska’s unique environment. Although I think the biggest win has been improving dialogue between stakeholders, particularly agency staff and water well contractors. Having regular meetings and follow-up e-mail correspondence has helped reduce miscommunication and increase knowledge of each other’s profession and perspectives. Over time this has allowed progress to be made through understanding and compromise. 

The immediate challenge was for agency staff to convey to stakeholders that we were interested in an open discussion that would lead to the mutual benefit of better groundwater protection, and were not approaching the workgroup meetings with the ulterior motive to create more regulations. This is the primary reason why the deliverables to this point have been in the form of BMPs and not “standards”. The exception is that the Decommissioning BMPs were used to help clarify existing regulations; hence, are now referenced as an acceptable method with respect to current regulation 18 AAC 80.015(e).

Another challenge was demonstrating to each other that the stakeholders involved in the workgroup discussions were knowledgeable on the topic of water wells and groundwater protection. Overcoming this doubt meant putting aside stereotypes and listening. With each meeting, stakeholders gained confidence in each other’s knowledge about water well construction and the existing regulatory framework. Today, I believe we have a mutual trust that allows us to make progress more efficiently.


Q:  Moving forward, what tasks are you tackling currently? What would you like to accomplish in the future?

CP:  The workgroup is not planned to meet again until the fall, when the construction season typically slows down. When the last meeting was held in the spring, a focus group was tasked with developing draft BMPs for public water system (PWS) well construction. For a starting point, we reference the AWWA A100-06 Water Wells, and the ANSI/NGWA-01-14 Water Well Construction Standard. Despite the minimum requirements in current ADEC Drinking Water regulations, 18 AAC 80, there are additional construction techniques and considerations that are common in Alaska. The intent is to capture these in a BMP.

Ensuring that groundwater professionals in Alaska have basic knowledge and experience in water well construction is a challenge that the workgroup has expressed interest in confronting. In Alaska, there is not a hydrologist/hydrogeologist specialty license, there isn’t a water well contractor certification requirement, and there isn’t specific water well training associated with the professional engineer license requirements. This has led to frustration from all stakeholders when working on projects that involve designing, constructing, and approving a water well. The workgroup is interested in finding a way to ensure that training is available and establishing proof of qualifications.

Q:  Is there anything else you would like to touch on of importance that we may have missed?

CP: To see what the workgroup has accomplished so far, and to follow along as we move forward, please visit our web site where you can find agendas, minutes, and links of interest: