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A quantitative consideration of sociodemographic factors in water quality research prioritization
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  • Melinda Erickson,
  • Craig Brown,
  • Elizabeth Tomaszewski,
  • Douglas Kent,
  • Joseph Ayotte,
  • John Karl Bohlke,
  • Sharon Qi
Melinda Erickson
U.S. Geological Survey

Corresponding Author:[email protected]

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Craig Brown
USGS New England Water Science Center
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Elizabeth Tomaszewski
U.S. Geological Survey Water Mission Area
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Douglas Kent
U.S. Geological Survey
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Joseph Ayotte
USGS New England Water Science Center - New Hampshire Office
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John Karl Bohlke
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Sharon Qi
USGS Geological Survey
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Water availability depends on water quantity and quality. Geogenic contaminants, including non-metals, metals, and metalloids from geologic sources, are among the most prevalent contaminants limiting water availability in the U.S. and globally. Typical geologic materials have geogenic concentrations such that dissolution of very small fractions can cause concentrations exceeding drinking water, ecological, and other water use thresholds. Geogenic contaminants often occur in groundwater due to subsurface water-rock interactions, but their distribution and concentration can also be affected by human activities such as mining, energy production, irrigation, and pumping practices. Many hydrogeologic and biogeochemical factors contribute to causing geogenic contamination that limits water availability. However, sociodemographic features, including drinking water source and missing water quality information, are often overlooked when evaluating, determining, and ranking the merit and benefit of research. Sociodemographic features, data gaps resulting from historical data collection disparities, social vulnerability indices, socioeconomic status, and infrastructure condition/age are examples of environmental justice (EJ) factors. To avoid perpetuating knowledge gaps while setting research priorities, EJ factors can be considered when developing ranking schemes to prioritize water availability research activities. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is working to quantitatively incorporate and prioritize EJ factors in ranking regional-scale, geogenic-related water availability research priorities. USGS ranking schemes incorporate typical physical and geochemical factors such as existing data, climate variables, and water use. Missing and sociodemographic information will also be incorporated to begin addressing EJ inequities. EJ factors include, for example, sparse information about water quality in lower income and minority areas, and unknowns about water quality in areas of substantial cultural or subsistence hunting, fishing, or gathering. By considering both EJ and hydrogeological/biogeochemical factors, decision makers will have a more diverse, interdisciplinary toolbox to increase equity and reduce bias in prioritizing future water availability studies.