The Private Water Network (PWN) is a virtual community of practice for peer learning and information exchange for environmental health specialists and safety workers that serve communities with private drinking water sources/systems.
Prior to the launch of the Private Water Network (PWN), there was no comprehensive, active resource for peer learning and information exchange for environmental health specialists and public health workers who serve communities with private drinking water sources and systems. To address this gap, the National Environmental Health Association (NEHA) launched PWN in 2019 through a partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Network of Public Health Institutes (NNPHI). PWN was created to serve two purposes: 1) to gather, organize, and share existing relevant private water resources; and 2) to build an online resource to support future stakeholder goals. Currently, PWN serves over 192 members through a series of expert discussion forums, webinars, newsletters, roundtable talks, and Twitter chats. PWN also hosts a resource repository on its virtual platform with more than 250 resources on private water.
In the spring of 2021, NEHA conducted an evaluation of PWN to assess if it was meeting the goals of its members and, through a survey, to assess membership attitudes toward PWN engagement opportunities, resources, and platform accessibility. The aim of the survey was to assess PWN’s reach, the ease of participation, and the usefulness of tools provided. The outcome evaluation also included an assessment of member attitudes, knowledge, and skills related to private water. NEHA received a total of 44 survey responses from the public and environmental health personnel working across various sectors such as governmental public health agencies (e.g., local, state, federal, tribal, territorial), academia, industry, and nonprofits.
Recommendations for Improvements
Overall, PWN members who completed the survey reported a positive experience participating in PWN and all respondents wanted to continue their membership and participation in the Network. The survey also asked respondents to suggest improvements. The following recommendations were suggested: 1) make the platform more user-friendly and easier to navigate; 2) hold longer question and answer segments for webinars, roundtables discussions, and panels sessions; and 3) develop or add additional resources (webinars, toolkits, factsheets) on arsenic, innovative approaches to private water treatment, and groundwater monitoring/surveillance; and 4) develop resources based on feedback from PWN members.
Acting on Member Recommendations
In the past 6-8 months, NEHA has addressed suggestions from the survey by taking a series of steps to improve the PWN.
- To make the PWN platform more user-friendly, NEHA revamped it using a different provider to create a simple user interface, making the online community platform much easier to navigate. The new online community platform can now be accessed at https://pwn.neha.org/.
- NEHA has been featuring longer question and answer segments following webinar presentations and is planning to host more roundtable discussions.
- For example, PWN will be hosting a pre-conference workshop at the 2022 NEHA Annual Education Conference in Spokane, Washington. This workshop will feature a combination of presentations and roundtable discussions on effective resources and innovative approaches to positively influence the well-water testing behavior in private well owners and overcome challenges related to well-water testing. Roundtable discussions will give workshop participants an opportunity to share lessons learned, opportunities, and challenges based on their experience and learn from peers and workshop panelists. To learn more about this pre-conference workshop, click here.
- To find out which topics should be explored for additional resource development based on member feedback, NEHA recently conducted a series of interviews with PWN members.
- All interviewees highlighted the need for resources on groundwater monitoring and surveillance. PWN members are especially interested in learning more about locating meaningful water quality data, groundwater data preparation and analysis, human health risk assessment/exposure assessment for groundwater, and national, state, or local level approaches to surveilling water quantity and quality.
- Interviewees also highlighted emerging treatment technologies for private wells as a topic of interest.
- Interview subjects requested resources on private well treatment for emerging contaminants like Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS), heavy metals, and pesticides. Subjects were interested in resources that include treatment options geared towards rural communities and do-it-yourself options that could potentially alleviate financial burdens for well owners.
- All interviewees suggested more content on outreach and education. Some suggested featuring a webinar on effective or unique partnerships that lead to facilitated well testing or well education programs.
- NEHA also hosted a live poll during a PWN webinar. The results of the poll are displayed in Figure 2. The poll results indicate that most attendees wanted more content on emerging treatment technologies, followed by groundwater surveillance. Private well preparedness and outreach and education came in at third and fourth positions based on responses.
Figure 2. Results from a live poll at a PWN Webinar.
NEHA will be incorporating these topics in the 2022 PWN Webinar Series, which starts on February 3. The first webinar features a presentation on innovative private well treatment technologies. Dr. Riley Mulhern will be sharing his insights on a North Carolina pilot study focused on evaluating the safety and effectiveness of under-sink water filters for private wells impacted by lead and PFAS, including an evaluation of microbiological water quality changes across the filters. The results will help individual well users and state and local health departments make more informed decisions about addressing lead and PFAS in well water using point-of-use treatment. Check out the Network library or newsletter for more resources on relevant private well topics.
Look forward to additional panel sessions, roundtable discussions, newsletters, video series, and more!
How to Join the PWN
If you are interested in joining the PWN, you can sign up at https://pwn.neha.org/. NEHA membership is not required to be a member of the Network; however, you will need to create a MyNEHA account through www.neha.org. If you work with private drinking water systems, NEHA encourages you to join the PWN today! For any questions or concerns about PWN membership or participation, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.