Increased education about BR water urged

There is room for improvement when it comes to what some East Baton Rouge Parish residents know about the location and condition of the drinking water they use every day, according to a survey done through the State Department of Natural Resources.

The phone survey of 300 registered voters in the parish on Dec. 3 and Dec. 4 found that 76 percent of the survey takers didn’t know of any serious threats to the groundwater resources that serve as Baton Rouge’s drinking supply.

When asked, “Are you aware of any serious threats to Baton Rouge’s groundwater resources,” 76 percent of the people replied “No,” 22 percent of the people replied “Yes,” and 1 percent of the people didn’t know or refused to answer the question.

In reality, salt water intrusion into the drinking water supply has been a recognized concern in the parish since the mid-1970s.

When asked, “In your opinion, which potential threat would be most serious? Industrial pollution or contamination, saltwater intrusion, which will lead to a decline in quality, overuse, which will lead to a decline in availability of don’t know/refused,” 62 percent thought it would be industrial pollution and 17 percent thought it would be saltwater intrusion.

Matthew Reonas, education and marketing representative with DNR, said pollution is probably the least potential threat to the groundwater serving the Baton Rouge area.

“All that is good for us to build an awareness program,” Reonas said.

He said the purpose of the survey was to get an idea of what people know about the Southern Hills Aquifer, which supplies the drinking water and water for many industrial uses in the parish.

Reonas is in charge of developing a “Water-Wise in BR” campaign to do public education about the groundwater resources. The survey will provide an idea of what work needs to be done.

Surprisingly, a majority of people knew that drinking water in the parish comes from groundwater sources, which is better than was expected, Reonas said.

When asked, “To the best of your knowledge, does the water found in most Baton Rouge homes and businesses originate from the: a below ground aquifer or “groundwater,” a lake or reservoir system, the Mississippi River, collected rainwater, don’t know/refused to respond,” 51.9 percent of the respondents said it came from groundwater.

About 8 percent of the respondents said it came from a lake or reservoir system, and 7 percent said the water came from the Mississippi River. About 30 percent didn’t know or refused to answer the question, according to the survey.

“There’s a lot of room for growth on awareness,” he said.

In addition, the survey revealed through some analysis that in general younger people under 30 years old were less knowledgeable about the groundwater system than older participants, Reonas said.

Part of the public education program being developed by Reonas will involve a free teacher workshop on Feb. 1 in Baton Rouge for middle school and high school teachers on a curriculum to teach students about the aquifer. More information about that is available through Reonas at 342-1496 or Matthew.Reonas@LA.GOV.

The survey was done by Magellan Strategies BR and had a margin of error of plus or minus 5.6 percent.