Tennessee Community Water Systems Operators Insights on the Infrastructure Challenges of Ensuring a Safe Drinking Water Supply

Authors: Yolanda McDonald*, Vanderbilt University
Topics: Applied Geography, Medical and Health Geography, United States
Keywords: community-engaged research, infrastructure, labor, community water systems operators, safe drinking water act
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Cleveland 1, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This purpose of this study was to conduct site visits at each of the Tennessee Department of the Environment and Conservation (TDEC) field offices to pilot a survey instrument with the audience (i.e. community water system operators (CWS), N=22). We were intentional in making sure we spoke to CWS operators from both small and large systems at each of the TDEC field offices to understand the differences between these systems in terms of place, resources, and capacity in providing safe drinking water. We were encouraged by the participation of CWS operators. By using, a community-engaged research approach, we found that the research participants played a significant role in determining the direction of our study. For example, the revised survey that will be used statewide includes new survey questions developed in collaboration with CWS operators based on their interests and areas of concern related to their work. We revised the survey after every field office visit based on CWS operators input and discussed in detail proposed questions by other operators. The final draft incorporated new questions reflecting the themes identified during the survey as important to CWS operators, such as the need for better understanding available funding and other resources, regulatory compliance issues, hard (i.e. pipes) and soft (i.e. labor) infrastructure, public engagement, and access to training/accreditation. The pilot survey was so well received by CWS operators that the Tennessee Utility Education Corporation, which provides educational and training opportunities to operators, has joined our statewide study as another stakeholder and voice.

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