Christy Nittrouer and other collaborators identified a need to improve resilience in public water services for small, rural, low-income and first-generation communities in Texas.
In February 2021, Winter Storm Uri affected more than 17 million Texas residents served by public drinking water systems as they were placed under boil water advisories for periods ranging from one day to more than one month.
Christy Nittrouer, along with collaborators Audrey Sawyer and Brianna Tomko from The Ohio State University and Xavier Sanchez-Vila from Universitat Politècnica of Catalunya, issued a cross-sectional survey to hundreds of Texans to account for their lived experiences during this time.
The team also performed a geospatial analysis that combined public boil water advisory data for Texas with demographic information from the 2010 United States Census to understand the affected public water systems and the populations they served. The findings were published today (June 21) in the Public Library of Science (PLOS) Water.
- The length of boil water advisories depended partly on the size of the public water system. Large, urban public water systems issued advisories of intermediate length (5-7 days) and served racially diverse communities of moderate income. Small, mostly rural public water systems issued some of the longest advisories (20 days or more).
- First-generation participants (whose parents were not college educated) were more likely to be placed under boil water advisories, pointing to disparate impacts by socioeconomic group.
- The survey revealed large communication gaps between public water utilities and individuals. More than half of all respondents were unsure or confused about whether they were issued a boil water advisory.
- “I hope this spurs public water systems to focus on their marketing and communication so they can determine how to get their messages out more broadly. We know from other research vulnerable populations are more at risk of missing important public health communications. The public water systems need to be sensitive to this.”
- “Access to water is one of the critical public health needs. If we aren't aware to boil our water and don't have consistent access to potable water, this leads to a lot of negative downstream implications in terms of the health of our public communities – particularly populations that are already vulnerable.”