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Where are the Community Water Systems? A Systematic Review of Geospatial Representation of United States Drinking Community Water System Service Areas

Event Type
Department of Geography & GIS
wifi event
Feb 26, 2021   3:00 - 4:00 pm  
Dr. Yolanda McDonald, Vanderbilty University
This event is free and open to public
Department of Geography & GIS
Originating Calendar
Geography and Geographic Information Science

Despite the increased interest in US drinking water justice (i.e. access, affordability, and quality) and infrastructure (i.e., pipes and workforce), the location of community water systems (CWSs), the systems that provide 90% of the US population with drinking water, remains largely unknown. This prompts the question, where are the service area boundaries of CWSs throughout the US? To refine water justice analyses, prioritize infrastructure, and develop water professionals’ workforce strategies, this lack of estimated CWS service area boundary data must be addressed. Drinking water justice research often utilizes a coarse-level unit of analyses (e.g., county-level). The practice of using a proxy area (e.g., county) to represent a CWS service area is problematic because 96.1% of counties have more than one CWSs within the same county and the demographics of a population are not evenly dispersed across a county.


This study presents a state-level systematic review of CWSs estimated service area boundaries in the US. We conducted google searches and utilized a snowball contact technique to obtain information about the geospatial representation of CWSs for each US state and the District of Columbia. We characterized CWSs by vector type, summarized the varied methodological approaches and data sources used to construct these data, cataloged data availability (e.g., public, by request, or for internal use only), specified the entities responsible for creating and maintaining these data, and reported if there is a  primacy agency requirement for CWS to provide said data. We harmonized the obtained CWS geospatial data to create, to the best of the authors’ knowledge, the first national geospatial database of CWSs. We found that 31 states and the District of Columbia had some format of visual representation of CWSs. Of these states, 24 have publicly available vector data representing CWS estimated service area boundaries. This geospatial repository of CWSs provides foundational information to enable granular (i.e. census-tract) assessment of the relationship between race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and drinking water justice at the CWS level as opposed to aggregated county-level analysis.


Our findings aim to prompt discussion among a myriad of stakeholders around the need to create, standardize, and maintain CWS estimated service area boundaries to ensure water justice for all communities.


**McDonald, Y.J.,1 Anderson, K.M.,1 Caballero, M.D.,1 Ding, K.J.,2 and Fisher, D.1
1Vanderbilt University 2Iowa State University

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