Rural land covers most of the state of Wisconsin, and rural practices continue to strongly shape the quality and quantity of groundwater in the state. Rural residents themselves are also strongly connected to issues affecting groundwater since the majority of the rural population relies on water from untreated private wells. As part of an interdisciplinary project funded by the USGS and UW System, Geoscience PhD candidate Catherine Christenson is working to understand the water perceptions and practices of rural residents, which could help legislators and regulators set priorities for continuing to protect the waters of the state. Working with Geoscience Professor Michael Cardiff and collaborators in Life Sciences Communication and UW-Extension, the group developed and administered the first comprehensive state-wide rural water survey, which sampled residents in 18 counties and received almost 500 responses. A new report, published via the UW’s Water Resources Institute, and a follow-up news article from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel highlights key statewide findings.
Cardiff and Christenson are currently examining the responses further to examine spatial and demographic trends, while also using new tools including Natural Language Processing (NLP) to examine news coverage of similar issues. The results of this research will provide journalists, legislators, and rule-makers with salient information about rural residents’ water concerns throughout the state and the degree to which they are well, poorly, or over-represented in media.