Virginia Tech team brings relief to well owners following hurricanes Harvey and Irma

A team of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) professors and students are helping reach Texas well owners with vital information on well-water supply contamination, the likelihood of which increases following hurricanes.

A $200,000 National Science Foundation Rapid Response Research (RAPID) grant is funding on-the-ground distribution of water sampling kits and educational training in Texas and Florida, which faculty from Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension program will lead. The Virginia Tech team is analyzing the samples and distributing the results to well owners.

“This is an exciting opportunity for AgriLife Extension to work with Virginia Tech and the other universities to respond to the effects of Hurricane Harvey,” said Dr. Diane Boellstorff, AgriLife Extension water resource specialist and associate professor in the Texas A&M Department of Soil and Crop Sciences. “With its expertise in responding to similar situations in Louisiana, the team was able to share its strategies to quickly bring needed information and help to Texas well owners affected by Harvey.”

The Virginia Tech team will build upon research on risk communication strategies with well owners that began earlier this year with collaborator Dr. Adrienne Katner, a faculty member of the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center’s School of Public Health-New Orleans. The team evaluated and developed communication strategies for natural disaster response — desperately needed, considering the oftentimes hard-to-find information on what well owners should do to ensure they have potable water following a natural disaster.

With no federal regulation on well-water supply quality, private well owners can be left in the dark on vital information after a flood, which often leads to contamination of well water.

The team hopes to create a comprehensive guide to communicating with well-water owners now and in the future to keep them informed and healthy when natural disasters strike.

Read the complete Virginia Tech news release. Read the Houston Chronicles’ story, Private water wells in Texas test positive for contamination after Harvey, about the results of the sampling to date.

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