Lessons Learned from Connecticut

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Last month, March 23, 2017, the very first Connecticut Private Well Conference was held in East Hartford, CT. As the Private Well Class prepares for our own first national Private Well Conference coming up on May 23-25, we asked Tiziana Shea - a sanitary engineer for the CT Department of Public Health's Private Well program, about the lessons learned from planning and preparing for the Connecticut Private Well Conference. Tiziana shares some valuable insight for partners and other environmental health professionals below! If you would like to view the speaker presentations from the Connecticut Private Well Conference, you can do so here.

Q:   Why you decided to host the first CT Private Well Conference?

TS: In Connecticut about 23% of our population (more than 820,000 people), are served by their own private residential well. Local Health Departments and Districts have authority over construction of new private wells and approval of water quality results for new wells, but existing wells are not regulated in Connecticut. There is a need to bring professionals working in fields related to private wells together to discuss technical and outreach issues associated with them. In 2016 the Connecticut Department of Public Health (CT DPH), Private Well Program initiated the coordination of the Connecticut Private Well Task Force, which is comprised of 14 associations and programs that work with private wells in different capacities in Connecticut. The task force collaborates on matters related to private wells, such as laws, regulations, policies, technical topics, outreach and education, and training for professionals. This 2017 Connecticut Private Well Conference was meant as a way to spread discussion of private well matters and to provide training to individuals working in a field related to private wells.

How the conference was funded?

TS: The Connecticut Department of Public Health has a cooperative agreement with the National Center for Environmental Health of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to reduce drinking water exposures in unregulated drinking water systems. Funding for the 2017 Connecticut Private Well Conference was made possible (in part) by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Additionally, the conference site was provided free of charge by Goodwin Community College, as long as the conference would be made available to students in a related field that attend the college. The opportunity to reach out to future environmental health and science professionals was a win - win for all parties involved.

What was the turnout, topics covered, and logistics of the conference?

TS: In order to determine relevant presentation topics for the conference, the CT Private Well Task Force members and organizations were asked to provide input regarding topics of interest among the private well field. A lot of topics of interest were generated initially, so from there we polled the task force members to prioritize topics for this first year’s event. Topics covered during the conference were: Existing MCLs and Action Levels for Private Wells; Road Salt Impacts to Drinking Water Wells; Sizing Variable Frequency Drive’s for Residential Well Pumps; Arsenic and Uranium in Domestic Wells in CT; Building Code and Private Well Construction; Drought in CT and Implications for Private Wells; Water Treatment Wastewater Disposal; and, Residential Water Treatment Fundamentals. The number of attendees exceeded our expectations, our final count with several walk-ins was 125 attendees.

Q:  What are your “lessons learned” from both the subject matter covered, and from hosting a state-wide conference?

TS: If you have the ability to test run electronics and other logistics in the room beforehand, take advantage of that! Be persistent in getting electronic copies of presentations ahead of the event so that you can be as coordinated as possible the day of the event. Start earlier than you think you’d need to, and stay organized.

Q:  Who were the attendees?

TS: 50% local health professionals or registered sanitarians; 15% well water industry professionals & specialists; 15% state or federal employees; 6% environmental lab professionals; Remaining: home inspectors, environmental consultants & specialists, home builders/remodelers, building officials, environmental health/science students.

Q:  What will you do differently next time?

TS: Consider a different space to hold the conference in. The facilities and people were great to work with, but lighting and support beams in the space provided made it difficult to see the presentation for some, and the space was tight for the number of individuals that attended.

Q:  How was the conference promoted? Do you think the promotion strategy you used was successful?

TS: We used several different means to promote the 2017 CT Private Well Conference. Because the event was hosted jointly with the CT Private Well Task Force our task force member partners reached out to their respective groups regarding the conference. The CT DPH also utilized an internal Everbridge system which allows us to contact local health officials via email, we posted registration information on our CT DPH private well program website, word of mouth and with the help of the PrivateWellClass.org, which was much appreciated! We feel as though our promotion strategy for this first conference was successful, as we exceeded the number of attendees we thought we’d get. However, in the future we plan to continue to expand our outreach to other groups of individuals that we’d like included in the mix.

Q:  What advice would you give the Private Well Class as they prepare to host the first national Private Well Conference next month?

TS: Be sure to work out as many details as possible beforehand, consider even the smallest or seemingly mundane things.

Q:  What were some of the most interesting or unexpected discussions, presentations, or partnerships formed form the conference?

TS:  In general; how well received the conference was, and the strong desire from so many to see it continue in future years. In my opinion, one of the most important messages brought up in some of the presentations, was one of working together, and to begin opening discussions where there are needs for it. The conference did facilitate different groups interacting that may not have otherwise done so. The conference also strengthened the partnerships established through the private well task force, and helped broaden that partnership with those not directly involved in the task force.

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The Private Well Class is a collaboration between the Rural Community Assistance Partnership and the University of Illinois, through the Illinois State Water Survey and the Illinois Water Resources Center, and funded by the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency.