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Prioritizing water availability study settings to address geogenic contaminants and related societal factors

February 24, 2024

Water availability for human and ecological uses depends on both water quantity and water quality. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is developing strategies for prioritizing regional-scale and watershed basin-scale studies of water availability across the nation. Previous USGS ranking processes for basin-scale studies incorporated primarily water quantity factors but are now considering additional water quality factors. This study presents a ranking based on the potential impacts of geogenic constituents on water quality and consideration of societal factors related to water quality. High-concentration geogenic constituents, including trace elements and radionuclides, are among the most prevalent contaminants limiting water availability in the USA and globally. Geogenic constituents commonly occur in groundwater because of subsurface water–rock interactions, and their distributions are controlled by complex geochemical processes. Geogenic constituent mobility can also be affected by human activities (e.g., mining, energy production, irrigation, and pumping). Societal factors and relations to drinking water sources and water quality information are often overlooked when evaluating research priorities. Sociodemographic characteristics, data gaps resulting from historical data-collection disparities, and infrastructure condition/age are examples of factors to consider regarding environmental justice. This paper presents approaches for ranking and prioritizing potential basin-scale study areas across the contiguous USA by considering a suite of conventional physical and geochemical variables related to geogenic constituents, with and without considering variables related to societal factors. Simultaneous consideration of societal and conventional factors could provide decision makers with more diverse, interdisciplinary tools to increase equity and reduce bias in prioritizing focused research areas and future water availability studies.

Publication Year 2024
Title Prioritizing water availability study settings to address geogenic contaminants and related societal factors
DOI 10.1007/s10661-024-12362-2
Authors Melinda L. Erickson, Craig J. Brown, Elizabeth J. Tomaszewski, Joseph D. Ayotte, Sharon L. Qi, Douglas B. Kent, John K. Böhlke
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Environmental Monitoring and Assessment
Index ID 70252580
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization WMA - Earth System Processes Division