Environmental Justice in Virginia’ s Rural Drinking Water: Analysis of Nitrate Concentrations and Bacteria Prevalence in the Household Wells of Augusta and Louisa County Residents
This research studied two predominantly rural counties in Virginia to understand whether residents have equal access to uncontaminated drinking water by socio-economic status. Statistical associations were developed with the total value of each residence based on county tax assessment data as the independent variable to explain levels of nitrate, the presence of bacteria (total coliform and Escherichia coli), and specific household well characteristics (well age, well depth, and treatment). Nearest neighbor analysis and chi-square tests based on land cover classifications were also conducted to evaluate the spatial distribution of contaminated and uncontaminated wells.
Based on the results from the 336 samples analyzed in Louisa County, rural residents with private wells may have variable access to household drinking water free of bacteria; particularly if lower-value homes in the community tend to be older with more dated, shallower wells. This study also suggested that, in Louisa County, the presence of water treatment devices was also significantly related to total home value as an index of socio-economic status. Analysis of the 124 samples taken from household wells in Augusta County did not result in any significant associations among selected well characteristics, total home value, and water quality. Lower community participation in Augusta County as a result of a more expensive water quality testing fee may have contributed to the lack of hypothesized relationships in that county's case study.