“You turn the tap on, the water's there, and you just think everything's fine”: a mixed methods approach to understanding public perceptions of groundwater management in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA

Feb 5, 2024

Author(s): Wanyun Shao

In Louisiana's Capital Area Groundwater Conservation District (CAGWCD), extensive groundwater withdrawals from the Southern Hills Aquifer System have begun to accelerate the infiltration of saltwater into the aquifer's freshwater sands. This accelerated saltwater intrusion has the potential to reduce the amount of groundwater available for public consumption and other industrial and agricultural uses throughout the region. In response to this threat, the Capital Area Ground Water Conservation Commission has begun development of a long-term strategic plan to achieve and maintain sustainable and resilient groundwater withdrawals from the aquifer system. The development of the strategic plan includes an assessment of public attitudes regarding groundwater and groundwater management in the CAGWCD. This paper presents the results of mixed methods public participatory research to evaluate current and historical views and attitudes around groundwater quality, quantity, and cost in the CAGWCD. The mixed methods approach used in this research employed a sequential explanatory design model consisting of two phases. The first phase involved the implementation of an internet-based survey, followed by a qualitative phase aimed at explaining and enhancing the quantitative results. The qualitative phase employed a combination of one-on-one interviews and focus groups. The research found that the primary governance obstacle that decision-makers may face in managing groundwater is a broad lack of public awareness of groundwater and groundwater issues in the CAGWCD. Despite the criticality of over-pumping and saltwater intrusion into the aquifer system, survey research and subsequent interviews and focus groups have shown that the public is largely unaware of these issues. This research also found a general lack of trust in both industry and government to manage groundwater issues and highlighted the need for groundwater management efforts to be led by unbiased, trusted institutions. More here.