Education and outreach programs are the most common approach for protecting domestic wells. These programs promote awareness and voluntary stewardship, including regular well maintenance, water quality testing, and the use of water treatment equipment. Many jurisdictions maintain government websites that provide advice and fact sheets for domestic well owners. Examples include the and . Educational websites for domestic well owners are also maintained by some non-government organizations, such as and .
In addition to fact sheets, educational websites sometimes include other information and tools that can help well owners protect their wells, including hazard maps for common well water contaminants (e.g., maps of arsenic in well water), online access to water well record databases, and story maps, infographics, and webinars. Interpretive tools are also available online that allow well owners to enter their well water chemistry results for comparison to drinking water quality guidelines.
Unfortunately, educational efforts, such as websites and fact sheets, do not necessarily cause behavioral change or prompt well owners to test their well water quality (Chappells et al., 2014; Morris et al., 2016). The lack of effectiveness of educational material at prompting homeowners to test has also been observed in radon gas outreach programs, which have similar objectives to domestic well outreach programs. Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that can accumulate in indoor air and cause lung cancer. Like domestic wells, testing for radon in indoor air by homeowners is voluntary. In 2020, Canada’s National Radon Program mailed 1.5 million postcards to homeowners living in high-risk radon areas to encourage them to test their indoor air for radon gas. Follow-up investigations found that this educational initiative increased radon awareness but had little effect on homeowner testing rates, which increased by only 0.5 percent (Penstone and Howe, 2020).
Community-based education programs for domestic well owners appear to be more effective than those that rely solely on websites and fact sheets. Results from the Canadian Province of Ontario’s Well Aware educational program indicates that well owners were five times more likely to follow recommendations and fix problems with their domestic wells if they were visited at home by a peer well owner, compared to receiving advice from generic sources, such as a website (Chappells et al., 2014).
A community-based domestic well education program in Pennsylvania, USA, called the Master Well Owner Network, recruited and trained over 200 local volunteers. The volunteers engaged in domestic well education initiatives, including talking to neighbors, presentations at local community meetings, hosting booths at community events, and media interviews. The program was able to reach over 30,000 well owners and surveys indicated that 82 percent of those contacted by a volunteer had taken action to protect their water supply, including water testing and the installation of water treatment equipment (Clemens et al., 2007). Although these types of community-based programs involving face-to-face contact with well owners are effective, they are more costly to operate and more difficult to maintain than educational websites and have not been widely adopted as long-term strategies for protecting domestic wells.