In this episode we’re chatting with Frieda von Qualen from the Minnesota Department of Health. Our conversation features insights on running a successful outreach program, an upcoming Minnesota-focused private well forum, and the shift towards policy that Frieda’s own work in the program has taken.
- Meet Frieda von Qualen: LinkedIn
- Frieda’s Water Hero: Jorge Izaquirre
- Clean Water Fund
- Minnesota’s Water and Health program
- National Environmental Public Health Internship Program
- CDC Public Health Associate Program
- Minnesota Environmental Public Health Tracking
- Takeaways from the 2016 well owner survey
- Owner’s Guide to Wells
- Well Water and Your Baby brochure
- Home Water Treatment factsheet
- Private Well Forum flyer (May 8, 2023)
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About the Guest
Frieda von Qualen is a planner in the Water Policy Center at the Minnesota Department of Health, Division of Environmental Health. She received her master’s degree in International Development Practices with a minor in Public Health from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs in 2016. She currently leads private well outreach, education, and strategic planning and helps facilitate cross-sectional drinking water projects and policies at the agency.
Steve Wilson: [00:00:57] Frieda, thanks for joining us. Frieda von Qualen from the Minnesota Department of Health. We’ve spent a lot of time working together, all of us on private well issues, and Minnesota Department of Health is a great entity as far as private wells go.
And thanks for joining us. Do you wanna explain a little more about where you work and what’s your role ?
Frieda von Qualen: Sure. Thanks so much for having me. I’ve enjoyed listening to the podcast episodes so far, so it’s an honor to be included in the list of folks participating. So thanks for the invitation. But yes, as you mentioned, I work at the Minnesota Department of Health and I’m a part of our environmental health division, specifically in the Water Policy Center, which is a new center as of a year ago.
So we’re still figuring out how all those details work. But a lot of my work is focused on the education, outreach, and kinda strategic planning as it relates to private wells. And I think we might dive into this a little bit later. But that part of my work is focused more so after the point of construction, after a well is constructed [00:01:57] through like the point of sealing.
What are the things that the private well owners should be aware of? What are things they can be doing to ensure that they have safe drinking water?
Steve Wilson: Oh, cool.
Jennifer Wilson: And what do you love about the work that you do?
Frieda von Qualen: Yeah. This is another question I always enjoy because I feel like this isn’t something we reflect on often, right? But there’s many parts I love about my work. Two of the key pieces for me is just the mission of what we’re doing is ensuring that all Minnesotans, regardless of where their drinking water comes from, have safe drinking water, whether it be from a private well, a public water system, a lake, river stream, groundwater, and regardless of, their race, their ethnicity, wherever they live in the state.
And just that mission is very motivating. And then that it dovetails so nicely into our department’s mission of protecting, maintaining, and improving the health of all Minnesotans. So it’s just very motivating. And then I have to say, I get some of the best colleagues that are out there. I’m very [00:02:57] fortunate within our division, we get to work across the different programs with toxicologists and epidemiologists, hydrologists, and the list goes on. And it’s just, it’s so inspiring to be around people who are so motivated for the work that they do and passionate about protecting people’s health. And then the partners that we get to engage with across the state are also just, again, very inspiring and motivating.
So I’ve, I’m very fortunate. It’s it’s a great place to be.
Steve Wilson: We always ask this question to everyone; what is one personal fun fact about you really something that we all don’t know?
Frieda von Qualen: This one always makes me a little nervous when I get this question. There’s a lot of pressure. I’m like, oh, do I have any fun facts? I don’t know. So I’ll let the listeners judge if this is actually fun, but I was just going to share that my husband and I really enjoy traveling and then camping is one of our favorite pastimes in the summer, and it’s just a fun way to explore and see different areas and get [00:03:57] technology out of the way for a bit. And so we became parents in the fall of 2021. So we were pretty proud of ourselves last summer when we got out and camped for a few nights, a few different times, and then we’re extra excited when our sons seemed to really enjoy it.
And I think actually one of the first times he slept through the night was when we were camping, we’re like, alright, there’s some possibility here.
Steve Wilson: No doubt.
Frieda von Qualen: With the sun shining and the temperatures warming a little bit, just like camping and outdoor activities are on my mind. So again, not sure that’s a super fun fact, but it’s something we get excited about
Steve Wilson: That’s awesome. Congratulations.
Frieda von Qualen: Oh, thank you. Thank you.
Steve Wilson: That’s awesome.
Jennifer Wilson: So we also like to ask our guests about their water hero. Someone who’s influenced or inspired you past or present in whose work in water or public health has really been a source of admiration.
Frieda von Qualen: Yeah, and again, kudos. Great question. I’ve really enjoyed hearing people’s responses on this one [00:04:57] too. And again, I’ve been extremely fortunate that I’ve worked with a lot of amazing people over the years and currently work with a lot of very inspiring and admirable people in this sphere. The person I’ll mention today was at the start of my journey in public health and water.
My journey started as a Peace Corps volunteer in rural Peru, working in the desert climate on water sanitation and hygiene projects. And our program director Jorge Izaguirre is the person that I wanna highlight today. And I really admire, I admire him and really appreciate the opportunity to get to work with him over three years for multiple reasons.
One our cohort of Crew 12 is what we were called, was the first group to have a water sanitation and hygiene program in Peru. So he was trailblazing that area. And we frequently joke that we are the Guinea pigs for the program. And that’s not an easy thing [00:05:57] to do when you’re getting in a bunch of recent college graduates from the US you have some cultural divides.
Jorge is from Peru. He’s a very highly qualified engineer and he was very much in the technical headspace, which made a lot of sense, but he was also getting generalists like myself, coming from a completely different culture and trying to figure out how we can incorporate anyone and everyone into the program.
So to make that happen, he really demonstrated a lot of patience. He provided a lot of guidance, and then he really involved our cohort or our team in building out that program. I have a specific memory of, we had our general goals and objectives that we were trying to achieve within our sites, but at our yearly check-in all 14 of us plus Jorge were sitting in a conference room going objective by objective, identifying what will be our indicators of success, how are we actually going to measure this?
What does this look like in your community? So just that involvement in helping build out the program. I [00:06:57] really respect that he was able to bring the team together to do that. And then, To a lot of credit to Jorge too. He was open to change. Again, I mentioned like he was the incoming group, maybe wasn’t quite what he had imagined for his inaugural water sanitation and hygiene group.
At one point, he expressed his skepticism as to why he had women in the group and why they weren’t engineers. Like how is this even going to work? But by the end of the program, he very openly stated that having generalists in the program was definitely beneficial. And he he joked that oftentimes the women were working harder than the men.
So maybe we should have all women and all generalists. And that felt like a big victory. But again, just being open to change and figuring out how to work with the team that you do have just have very much admired working with him.
Jennifer Wilson: It seems like that set a foundation of starting with those program evaluation components because so much of what we do [00:07:57] to, or like what we see out there are good intentions that maybe are not meeting the mark because they’re not really looking at those benchmarks and seeing, okay, how are we gonna know if this is actually effective as part of the planning from the beginning.
So I’m sure that’s influenced you and when, why your program has done so well.
Frieda von Qualen: Yes. Yes it is. Ha. It has been something on my mind a lot. And it can be challenging too because it’s something you need to build in from the onset. And oftentimes it, it takes extra energy and time to really be strategic and how are you going to measure things, and then making sure that you actually do measure them.
And then remembering that just because it can be counted doesn’t mean that it necessarily counts. And figuring out how to best measure what the actual progress is.
Steve Wilson: That’s awesome. So today we’re gonna talk about the private well program in Minnesota. And I wanted to do this for a while just because I [00:08:57] frequently rely on Minnesota’s program for resources and, advice from you and others. And you really seem to have just a lot going for your program.
And, I’ve not seen a program like Minnesota’s in any other states really. And you have so many tools available and all those things. So I guess what I really am asking is, can you describe how your program and how it stands today and some of the things that, make it unique and so special?
Frieda von Qualen: Absolutely. I will do my best to represent our program today, but really wanna highlight like I am just a very small component of this much larger piece and there’s been a lot of thought and leadership to develop the program so that it is where it is today. That started long before I was ever at M D H, so a lot of credit goes to my colleagues and predecessors.
And I’ll also say we’ve gone through a few shifts over the last couple of years. So currently how our well program is set up is that we [00:09:57] really think of it having two legs, if you will, or arms branches, however you wanna think of it. That we have the regulatory side and then we have the voluntary side.
And our regulatory side is very well established. It’s been a program for over 30 years. They developed the Minnesota well code in the seventies that really defines well construction, siting, how a well should be sealed, et cetera. And they work with licensed well contractors to make sure that they’re well, they license the well contractors and then they also do regular education and communication with the licensed well contractor community to ensure they’re clear on what the rules and regulations are around well construction, siting, and sealing and maintenance too.
There are some maintenance components in there. And this regulatory portion of the program is really funded through the fees that are collected through the different permits and processes for constructing wells, for sealing, for having [00:10:57] maintenance permits, et cetera. And we have seven offices connected to the regulatory side.
So we have our metro office, which is houses like a lot of our record keeping processes and a good portion of our staff. And then we have six regional offices around the state that include hydrologists who are very familiar with the groundwater concerns in the area. They know the licensed well contractors who are working in the area and other local partners and are more of a local resource for those in that area.
And then the voluntary side of the well work does focus more specifically on the private well piece and then thinks about those pieces in between the birth and the death of a well, so what we call our starting to fondly term, the voluntary components of well ownership. We all know that well testing is really important on a regular basis if there are water quality issues that mitigating them is also really [00:11:57] important.
But those are voluntary in Minnesota. So we’re really trying to build out that piece to make sure that people have the information that they need for regular well testing and maintenance that we’re bringing partners into the process. We know our team of three people can’t do it. And local voices are more trusted and they’re more aware of what’s happening in their community.
So our voluntary side really focuses on just that in between and the responsible responsibilities that a well owner or a well user may have. So that part of our program at this point is primarily funded through the Clean Water Fund, which is a part of our Clean Water Land and Legacy amendment, which I can talk more about if that’s helpful.
But that part is a little tricky in that we go through a biennial budget. So some biennia we may get funded some biennia we may not. And so even as recently as fiscal year 22 and 23, we did not officially get [00:12:57] funded for that education and outreach, but that also overlapped with a lot of covid response things.
So we’re still able to carry work forward at this point. But that voluntary piece, again, is funded through that legacy amendment. And then we’re always looking for grants and then opportunities to bring in additional workers through, I’m gonna list a few programs here because they’re great programs.
The National Environmental Public Health internship program, we were able to get a couple interns that way. The AmeriCorps now has a Public Health Corps component. We have a Public Health Corps member. Currently, we’ve had several student workers, and then we’re hoping to work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to get a public health associate for this upcoming year.
But we’ve really relied on getting some additional time and talent through these programs that are available to lots of other groups as well. So if you haven’t thought about them, I encourage folks to think about those opportunities as well.[00:13:57]
Steve Wilson: So you mentioned the fund and because it, I, that’s a, it seems like that is a big piece of where a lot of, you guys also do research. I know a few years ago I saw a talk or doing some virus studies and things that most public health departments probably would never be able to do. And is it that why, and yeah.
I’m just interested.
Frieda von Qualen: Yeah, thanks for that follow up question and I will dive into that fund a little bit more. And I wanted to just backtrack a second that like the other, I think key to success for our program is that we are embedded in our environmental health division. So literally just like down the hall is our public drinking water program.
We have our health risk assessment program that’s looking at how different contaminants and water can affect human health. So we have a lot of expertise in those other programs that we can pull from or rely on both on the regulatory side and the voluntary side as well. And [00:14:57] then many partners outside of the agency as well, who we regularly rely on.
Steve Wilson: I think that’s a really good point. Some states have all of that separated and different divisions that don’t necessarily work together are totally different departments and it really is a benefit to have everybody together for sure.
Frieda von Qualen: It really is, and it’s, yeah, we’re very fortunate in Minnesota. I don’t know who developed that structure, but I’m really grateful that’s the way that it’s set up because we really do work across the programs. A lot of times, especially, when we’re hearing about emerging contaminants like PFAS or others, it affects both the public and the private side.
And we really need to be like moving forward together and thinking about how it affects everyone regardless of what their water source might be.
And I think especially along the supports line too I can’t tell you guys how many times just in the last few weeks, private well class has come up. So know that like you’re serving this like critical [00:15:57] role too, that you’re connecting all these programs together and like people are excited to learn about X, Y, or Z and they’re recognizing the actual webinars that you’re putting on.
I’ve had multiple folks reach out in the last few weeks saying have you heard of this private well class? They have really good stuff. I’m like, I have, and yes, they do. So let’s keep promoting and using that. So thank you also for the role that you’ve played in helping connect the expertise and the ideas across the nation.
It’s pretty exciting.
So in 2008, Minnesota passed the Clean Water Land and Legacy Amendment. And so that amendment provided a 3/8% sales tax that was then intended to be used for a series of different activities. One third, or essentially one eighth percent of the sales tax is directly allocated to the Clean Water Fund, which its whole [00:16:57] goal and those funds have to be used to protect, enhance and restore water quality in lakes, rivers, streams, and then protect groundwater. And so primarily it’s state agencies that are allocated this funding for a series of different programs that help carry out that goal. And then one of those program areas in the past, and we’re hoping continuing in this next fiscal year, et cetera and beyond, is for private well protection activities that really, again, focuses on that education and outreach component.
And then doing additional research on the occurrence and magnitude of different contaminants that might be affecting private wells in Minnesota. And then to your point, Steve, earlier, it does also fund some of our other programs within the environmental health division across many sister agencies as well, but some of them looking at like viruses and groundwater.[00:17:57]
Contaminants of emerging concern and understanding what the human health risks are and at which levels we have a pretty robust source water protection program that’s really trying to think upstream or I don’t know what the groundwater equivalent of that would be. So really think through like, why don’t we get ahead of the contamination issue so we can prevent it from the first place.
Being very clear like where is a public water system pulling its water from? What is that catchment area and how can we ensure that all of that catchment area is protected so that it doesn’t have to deal with contamination issues down the road, which then becomes a lot more expensive and the contamination is there.
Perhaps forever. So those are just a few of the programs that we have at the health department that are funded through this Clean Water Fund. And that has definitely been a huge asset to the, to Minnesotans as a whole, to our private well protection work, and then [00:18:57] to our division as well.
Steve Wilson: I point to that program and Iowa Grants to counties program as two of the things that every state should do. But good luck getting state legislatures all on the same page for those things.
Frieda von Qualen: Yeah they passed the amendment before I was a part of state government or anything, but I know a lot of people worked on that for many years to make it happen and actually only runs through 2034. So we are getting to the point that we’re starting to figure out, okay, so what is the ideal going forward?
Is it that they renew the amendment for another X number of years? Or is there a way to integrate those activities into more of a general fund approach? But where does that funding come from? So we’ll see what happens.
Jennifer Wilson: So we know you have a lot going on in your program. Can you highlight some of the current efforts related to private wells?
Frieda von Qualen: Yeah, I’d be happy to highlight a few here. And there’s always more ideas on the radar [00:19:57] than our, it’s actually possible to do at one time. But some of the ones that we’re especially excited about is that again, through that Clean Water Land and Legacy Amendment, the Clean Water Fund, we were able to provide a couple of grants to local partners to really provide well testing opportunities and then build out mitigation, financial assistance opportunities.
Because something we have run into, and some of our research has showed this as well, is that, if you test one, that’s great, but if you don’t have the means to do anything about any water quality issue, That test doesn’t really do too much for you. So we have a couple of grantees, one focused in Southeast Minnesota and the one in West central Minnesota just finished up their grant project.
But one was primarily focused on an area that we know there’s a lot of nitrate contamination and another in an area where we know that there’s a lot of arsenic in groundwater. And what we’re excited about with these two [00:20:57] grants was one went to a soil and water conservation district, and then they ended up working with their local health departments and laboratories and other partners in the area and found that partnership to be very helpful to have both public health and the local or the wa, soil and water Conservation District working together.
And then the other grant, the grantee, was actually a health department. And in turn, they reached out to their soil and water conservation districts in the area to, again, have that combination of kind of the public health expertise and knowing how to reach people, and then the groundwater expertise to create a marriage, if you will, to better support the folks in that area.
So we’re excited about the work that they’ve been doing in their respective communities and what they’re learning through that process. A few other things that we are working on, and hopefully we’ll be coming to fruition somewhat soon, is we’re building out the data that’s available related to private wells on our environmental public health [00:21:57] tracking portal.
So right now we have just a couple maps on there related to arsenic and a little bit about nitrate. But what we haven’t had access to and we haven’t really looked at before in Minnesota is how. Groundwater contamination or groundwater quality, especially in private wells. How does that look when we overlay it or combine it or compare it to different socioeconomic factors, sociodemographic factors?
So we’re working to add in more information about English proficiency levels cuz maybe we need to have more materials translated or available in different languages or explained a different way, socioeconomic status that could really drive where do we maybe need to have some mitigation or well, testing financial assistance. And then also looking at how age ages look different, especially focusing on children under five years. We know that they’re at the highest risk of being affected by contaminants found in drinking water and thus private well [00:22:57] water. And then folks who are 65 and older, cuz they’re also at highest risk of being affected by some of those same contaminants.
So we’re excited about that partnership to really build out the water quality side. And then what does this look like when we compare it to sociodemographic components? And then helping, hoping that will be a tool that partners can use to define where their priorities may be at a local level when it comes to private wells as well.
A couple other things we’re working on is we’re. We’ve been working on this for a while. It turns out it’s more work than we realized developing a continuing education credit for real estate professionals, which I know that you all have gone and you’ve carried that torch. And it’s, it, we have learned a lot from it.
We are making one that’s specific to Minnesota that goes through like Minnesota legally, what you have to do at property transfer related to wells, and then how you can be a well savvy real estate professional going above and beyond to [00:23:57] help protect the health of your customers. So we’re hoping to launch that pretty soon here, and we’re happy to share that if other folks are thinking about something similar for their own, like jurisdiction too.
Because again we took a lot of notes from what you already provide, so thank you.
Steve Wilson: The deal with that is nationwide realtors licenses and all that stuff are state specific and so we can’t, we can’t reach out to like the National Realtors Association and do a webinar and it really needs to be state by state and that takes a huge amount of bandwidth for us.
And what you are doing sounds like a great model for us to promote down the road as well, cuz really states need to take that on. Or someone in the state needs to be an advocate for it to really make it work. So That’s awesome.
Frieda von Qualen: We’re excited. We’ll see, we were fortunate in, I’m trying to think, 2019, we had done just an initial assessment with real estate professionals around the state, and we had over 200 folks provide responses, just would they be interested in [00:24:57] the CEU related to private, or not private wells specifically, but to wells at property transfer.
And most said, yes, that would definitely be helpful because there are obligations they have to meet, and then there’s some additional steps they can be taking too. So we’ll see. We’ll keep you posted.
Steve Wilson: Yeah.
Frieda von Qualen: And then some of our other areas of focus include really trying to build out how local policy could play a role in ensuring safe drinking water for private well users and communities.
Rental properties especially, there are not, there are only like one or two ordinances that we can find in Minnesota and just a couple more across the nation from what we can tell that even talk about what should happen with private wells if it’s a rental property. Because in that situation that renter really doesn’t have a lot of agency in this situation to get the well tested or if there is an issue to get the issue mitigated.
So we’re working on some template language that can be used there and then figuring out how we can get that [00:25:57] information out to partners across the state and figure out if there’s a path forward for more of a local approach to regulations or ordinances around testing and mitigation, especially in rental properties.
Steve Wilson: That’s a big issue. Vermont actually has a law. We interviewed Mark Johnson from RCAP. He was actually renting a farmhouse and ran into all of those issues. And even though there is a law, it’s not necessarily enforced or it doesn’t give you a lot of yeah, in his case, they had to move,
Frieda von Qualen: Yeah. Which, yeah,
Steve Wilson: the point, right?
Frieda von Qualen: just yeah. So there’s a big inequity there.
Steve Wilson: No doubt. No.
Frieda von Qualen: a lot of work to do on that front for sure. And we are working on some translation of some of our key documents and documents that our, and resources that our partners rely on pretty heavily. We’re getting them translated into Spanish, Somali, and Hmong.
So those will certainly be available on our web and everything, if that’s helpful for other states [00:26:57] or entities as well.
Steve Wilson: So where did, did you do some sort of analysis of the population stuff to come up with Somali and Hmong? I’ll be darn. That’s interesting.
Frieda von Qualen: Yeah, so we did a combination approach. So one, we took a look at the census, will give you stats on a census track level in terms of English proficiency. So people can rate themselves from like very proficient down to, I forget what the, if it’s like not proficient or how they phrase it. So we looked at that first, but it doesn’t dive into any languages beyond Spanish, if I remember correctly.
So we had to keep looking at additional layers. But then, so those counties especially that we noticed that they had higher percentages of their population that have limited English proficiency. We looked at our Department of Education has kept track of the different languages represented in.
Steve Wilson: Oh.
Frieda von Qualen: To see what are the languages in those counties?
And then we [00:27:57] also know that just as a whole in Minnesota, that Spanish, Somali and Hmong are our top three languages. We just didn’t know if that looked different. When you look at where we know there are private wells or a large percentage of the population on private wells, but it turned out that those three languages were still the most popular.
And then we also connected with partners local health departments and soil and water conservation districts, folks who had ordered brochures from us in the past to ask about which educational materials, would it be helpful to have educational materials available in other languages? If so, which materials?
And then which languages? And again, they’re Spanish, Somali, and Hmong were the top three languages. So there’s certainly more languages represented, but that’s where we’re starting with for now. And then the. Final project I’ll highlight here that we’re really excited about, we’ve been talking about since 2019 and I think it’s actually going to happen this year, is that we’re host planning [00:28:57] to host a Minnesota based private well forum that very honestly is inspired by the private well conferences that you all have hosted.
We just wanted to do something that was Minnesota based and started ideally getting a lot of partners across the state, thinking more about private wells. What does this mean for my community? Who could I be working with in my community to better support private well users and private well owners? So we’re hoping the forum at this point, we’re planning on the forum.
It will be a virtual forum on May 8th, and it’s a call to action working together to overcome barriers, private, users space in Minnesota. Like I said, it’s been on the vision board since 2019. And yeah, a few things happened since then, but we’re moving forward this year.
Steve Wilson: That’s awesome.
Jennifer Wilson: I see that Steve has a question later for this, so maybe can you elaborate more on the goals of the forum and what you anticipate, being on the agenda on May 8th?[00:29:57]
Frieda von Qualen: Yeah, so I’m happy to share what we have at this point. So really I wanna emphasize like this is the first time we’re trying something like this in Minnesota. So it is a little bit of a litmus test to see if there is appetite for this, and then, We’ll see if this year’s approach is a good way for carrying this forward, or maybe if we adapt it, there will be a better way for carrying it forward in the future.
But really the purpose this year is to really, we’re aiming to bring together people across Minnesota who care about private well users so that we can create a shared effort to ensure safe drinking water for our 1.2 million private well users across the state. And we’re trying to do this kind of through three main approaches.
We wanna hear from attendees about how they’re empowering private well users to protect their health. We wanna hear perspectives on testing barriers to, testing and treatment, and then possible strategies to overcome them. And then really having a lot of [00:30:57] conversation and brainstorming around how can we as communities, as organizations, nonprofits, agencies, you name it.
How can we collaborate together in ways that we haven’t so far, so that we can create a more supportive system for private well users And what are some of those key ne next steps to realize that collaborative effort? So the forum will be we’re, we’ve been working with a steering team made up of representatives from like our advisory council, the Minnesota Water Well Association, our groundwater association, Minnesota Well Owners organization, soil, water Conservation district, local public health keeps going on.
So a lot of the players that we would ideally love to have at the table in this more collaborative effort are also contributing to the visioning for this forum who we’re inviting as speakers, what they want to talk about. So the forum will be a combination of speakers, so learning [00:31:57] opportunities, hearing what’s going on out there, which.
I’m excited to hear, I think we’ll hear a little update from private well class. And then it will include quite a bit of whether it’s breakout discussions or more large group discussions, like actually talking and brainstorming. What are some of the takeaways? What is it we envision for private well users going forward?
What needs to happen to make that a possibility? So because that’s the framework for the forum, we are really focused more so on inviting. We’re terming like our service providers, our public servants, our educators. So as we know, there’s not like one single group that works with private well users. Lots of different groups have important touchpoints or potential touchpoints.
So on our list of invitees, which we’re working on sending out save the dates right now we’re certainly including. Laboratories licensed well, contractors, our delegated well programs, soil and water conservation districts, county government. We have a few different [00:32:57] councils that we’re inviting to it, nonprofits, professional associations, public health practitioners county health boards, legislators, our university extension services, water treatment specialists and watershed districts.
And well owners are welcome to attend if they feel so inclined, but our primary audiences will be those more service providers at the local level. So we’ll see.
We haven’t brought this combination of folks together in the past, and the energy seems pretty palpable at this point. So we’re optimistic and hopeful that the forum will show something similar, like maybe the energy and the will is there.
It’s just, there hasn’t been the opportunity before.
Steve Wilson: I think that’s exactly it. I think you’ll find that you’re gonna get a lot of it’s gonna get a lot of attention and a lot of people are gonna wanna be there.
Frieda von Qualen: We’re hopeful
Steve Wilson: That’s usually what it takes is someone to be the facilitator, yep.
Frieda von Qualen: and we’re in a position we can do that. So we’ll see what happens. We’ll keep you posted.
Steve Wilson: So one of the other things we wanted to [00:33:57] talk about today is the surveys that have been done up there are unique and bigger, honestly, than we’ve ever anywhere else we’ve found in the country. And I guess we just wanted you to talk about that you’re involved with the one in 2016 and just, it was a survey of Minnesota well owners and I think Yeah.
And just how has that informed your decision making moving forward? What did you learn? And I, and it was arsenic based, or at least it started that way. And yeah, just give you a chance to talk about it because it’s really a cool survey and there should be more information like this made available in other, other parts of the country, honestly.
Frieda von Qualen: Yeah. Thanks for the opportunity to talk about it. Yeah. So I can give a little bit of an overview of how the survey was set up and some of our key findings, and then, like you said, talk about how that’s driving our work at this point. So I do wanna highlight, again, this survey was already underway when I came on board, so the brains behind it are my peers, [00:34:57] but it’s been very exciting to be a part of the group to help analyze and figure out what this means moving forward.
Part of the way our Minnesota code is set up is that when a well is first constructed, it has to be tested for arsenic, coliform, bacteria, and nitrate. And when we were starting to work on private well education and outreach, one of the big questions we had was, what is people’s risk perception?
Like the communications that we’re sending out there, are they even effective? Because we do send a letter after those initial well water test results to explain what the results mean and if action is necessary, et cetera. So what they decided to do was send a survey to about 4,000 households that they knew when that well was first tested that there was a level of arsenic that was above the safe drinking water standard, safe drinking water Act, standard of 10 parts per billion.
And then the survey included questions about. Were you [00:35:57] aware that you had a high arsenic level? Were you concerned about that? Did you take action? If so, what type of action? And then some more general questions about testing practices, what the preferences are for testing, what would motivate them to test, what would motivate them to treat their water?
Kind of going through some of those behavioral pieces as well. So the survey went out to 4,000 households. Of that we had 798 responses, so about 27% response rate. And some of the key findings that we rely on and talk about pretty regularly were that of those respondents, so remember all of them had an arsenic level that would not be acceptable in a community water system.
34% of the respondents didn’t take any action. And the reasoning being a combination of they didn’t really think there was a risk attached to it. The M C L used to be higher. Why should I be concerned about it now? To not knowing what the like right action would be that they would take action they just hadn’t yet.[00:36:57]
Or now I’m blanking on the one I was gonna list ne next, but those are the three main, three main issues. And then the other thing that came through loud and clear, which probably is not much of a surprise, but it’s helpful to have a number behind, was that less than 20% of the respondents had said they had tested for nitrate or coliform bacteria in the last couple of years, which in Minnesota we encourage testing every year for coliform and every other year for nitrate.
So we know that testing isn’t something that most people are thinking about or doing on a regular basis. So a lot of room for growth there. And then we ask questions about, where do folks look for information related to their well or their health? And the most common answer was technically the health department.
But we ruled that one out because we were sending, the survey felt like we were skewing the results a bit, but close behind where water testing laboratories folks are looking online for that information and then they’re looking to their local units of [00:37:57] government, their licensed well contractors, and then University of Minnesota Extension, in that order.
And we also asked about what would prompt you to get your well water tested? And I think it was well over 90% said there’s a change in how the water looked, smelled, or felt. They would get it tested, which good, we’re glad to hear that. And that’s not really a part that we controlled, nor should we.
But beyond that, some other cues that would really prompt them to get their water tested, they said that if their doctor recommended it, That would be something that would definitely prompt them if they had an infant or a child in the home would be a prompt. So that was a cue. That might be a group to really think about local testing events would be a good prompt and then hearing from their neighbor would be a good prompt.
So if this is just something folks are talking about, and then we also asked one of our key takeaway questions was, what would be your preference? If testing were as easy as possible, what would be easiest for you? And we [00:38:57] presented a few different options. One that you have a local spot where you can go, just pick up a test kit and you return it to that same spot.
You could order it by phone or online. It’s sent to you and then you just send it back to the laboratory. And this one is one of the few examples of where we can really see a difference based on a few different sociodemographic factors. So the older the respondent was, The lower the education or the lower the income, the more likely they were to prefer that physical pickup and drop off spot in their local community.
And then on the other end of the spectrum, they were younger, higher levels of education or a higher income. They were more interested in just ordered online or by the phone and send it back via mail. So this was a big highlight, like the same approach is not going to work for everyone and we’ve gotta think about different ways to meet people where they’re at.
There were eight [00:39:57] main recommendations that came out of that, those survey results that we’ve also been using internally too.
So I can just walk through those kind of quickly. That idea that like we need to get people just talking about getting their well water tested. People said if hearing from their neighbor is a big prompt for them, how do we get the neighbors talking about it?
Steve Wilson: I was surprised. I was surprised by that.
Frieda von Qualen: Right, not that we’ve figured out how to do that exactly, but that is one of the goals we’re working toward. And then there’s definitely room for improving our risk messaging because some people didn’t take action on arsenic cuz they really just didn’t perceive a risk. So we’ve been working on how we make our messaging clearer so that it’s the appropriate amount of risk that’s being perceived.
So it does inspire action when action is warranted. And then with that, I think in tandem is clarifying how people can reduce their risk. So it’s not. Fuzzy, confusing set of options available to them. The other [00:40:57] one that we’ve really been trying to work on is providing information through a variety of different channels.
There were a lot of different places people listed that they would be looking for private, well related information. Some of those are within the State’s control, most of them are not directly. So again, I think places like the Forum and working with partners is so key so that we can be sharing consistent messages.
They have the information they’re looking for to support their community, their constituents and then really highlighting it’s not gonna be just a recommendation from the health department that people are going to respond to in terms of getting their water tested. We know clinicians play an important role.
We know that labs play an important role. So really engaging with those different local agencies and businesses to, again, Talk about testing on a regular basis there’s a lot of opportunity to prioritize messaging to families with young children. So we’ve been trying to connect more with our [00:41:57] WIC programs and finding ways to connect with family home visiting, to get well testing as a part of some of those conversations.
And then addressing cost concerns, like recognizing that water treatment, it can be a really big cost barrier for some folks and understandably how do we mitigate that barrier? And we’re actively working on that. And it’s tricky cuz it takes money to do that as well. And we have to see where that lines up on the sets of priorities for our legislature and other entities as well.
Steve Wilson: If you can solve that issue, you’ll have a lot of people interested in how you did that.
Frieda von Qualen: Yeah, I’ll be curious to see how this part turns out cuz it is a big challenge and I know there’s a few of grant loan, grant and loan programs out there, but the qualifiers are so specific that it’s great for the individuals or the households that would qualify, but it’s
Steve Wilson: Most people don’t qualify,
No. Yeah. We just [00:42:57] had the U S D A folks on our webinar in February. It’s 60% of m h i is pretty low.
Frieda von Qualen: Yes. Yeah, it’s shocking when you actually look at those numbers, you’re like, oh wow that’s very low. And I think the kind of key final takeaway that we’re working on is making testing available locally and then going back to that concept of what local can look like. Cause we only have just over two dozen labs in Minnesota that are accredited and accept samples from private well users.
So that’s not many labs when we have 78 counties. So how do we make test kits available either at physical locations and labs can come through and pick them up and drop them off on a regular basis? We have a few labs doing that. Or is it, there are also opportunities where local. Governments or local nonprofits, or we even have the Minnesota Well Owners organization that’s hosting different screening [00:43:57] clinics around the state to make those local opportunities available for folks.
So there’s a lot of building out to do, but those are some of the key takeaways for our program and areas of focus for our program at this point.
Steve Wilson: That’s a lot. You guys are doing a lot. It’s awesome.
Frieda von Qualen: A lot of work ahead.
Steve Wilson: Sure. But even, some of the things you’ve mentioned looking at WIC information to help get to families and again, it’s comes back to because you’re the Department of Public Health and you have, there’s so many of those pieces you have access to.
I guess the message for everyone else, even for us would be, we really need to do as good of a job partnering with our department of Health as we can, which we try to do. Yeah, it’s encouraging,
Frieda von Qualen: It all comes with challenges too because health departments especially they’ve been dealing with a lot over the last few years.
How to make it something that’s of a support for them rather than an additional [00:44:57] ask. So we’re still fleshing out how to best do that.
Steve Wilson: We hear a lot from states that, private well efforts are a lot of times the first to go because a lot of other things have a state mandate, like septic systems or whatever. And the fact that you’re able to have such a busy program and do so much is really awesome.
Jennifer Wilson: What stood out to me is just the need for that consistent messaging that can be relayed.
Frieda von Qualen: Mm-hmm.
Jennifer Wilson: I wanna share something, but I wanna share the right thing at the right time to the right person.
Frieda von Qualen: Mm-hmm.
Jennifer Wilson: And so part of that is, you’ve an incredible suite of materials.
We definitely rely on your disinfection guide as the most logical, makes the most sense. And share that often. What are some of the other materials that, that you have found to be really effective in your program or others that you’re working on?
Frieda von Qualen: Yeah. Some of the ones that we point to quite a bit are Owner’s Guide to so this is just a trifold. I think it’s just trifold brochure that really at a very high level walks a well owner through like at [00:45:57] minimum make sure you’re thinking about these things. And we kinda use the tips acronym that you’re testing on a regular basis.
You just do a visual inspection of your well on a regular basis. These are the key things to look for. You’re protecting your, no, you’re in a snowy area marking it so you’re not running over it with equipment, et cetera. And then when that well is no longer in use, make sure you’re sealing it. So we have that brochure and then one that it’s called Water and Your Baby.
That again, knowing that folks who may have a young child in the house are more likely to adopt a new behavior or take a look at what’s in their water that really walks through the six five main contaminants. Then we do also encourage them to think about fluoride as well. In that brochure and like why are we talking about babies specifically?
So both of those brochures we do have available that partners can order online for free and we’ll mail out batches of them. And that one, it is exciting to us. We do have a variety of different [00:46:57] partners regularly ordering those brochures, including a few like ob gyn clinics.
Steve Wilson: Oh, that’s awesome.
Frieda von Qualen: sometimes they’ll ask for really big orders and our program folks will say, are we okay sending a thousand brochures to this person? I’m like, yep, absolutely. They are sending them home with patients as they come to the clinic. So those are a couple that are really geared toward that. Uh, well User.
Another one that we’re working on updating and revamping a bit is our well sealing brochure. And then once that’s updated, that will also be available for people to order online and we’ll send to them. And then we have some just contaminant specific bro brochures and webpages that we rely on pretty heavily around arsenic, coliform, bacteria, nitrate lead.
And then we do tend to get a lot of questions about manganese. So we have some information about manganese, but our, by far and away our most popular webpage is sulfur bacteria in wells like by [00:47:57] orders of magnitude.
So we do have that one up, and that will be one of the ones getting translated as well, because that one, like you can tell something is going on with your water, even though it probably doesn’t actually present a health risk, but it isn’t pleasant either. Yeah, so we have a lot of contaminant specific related materials, which are more of the area that I work in. I’m trying to think if there’s some other ones that
Steve Wilson: So there’s one that we’ve started using a lot honestly. And I, maybe you’re gonna mention it, but it’s the home water treatment guide.
Frieda von Qualen: Yes.
Steve Wilson: That thing is amazing. And I’ve actually used pieces of it in our webinars to show people, cuz that’s one of the biggest questions we get is about, if we have this thing, how do we treat it?
And, there’s a lot of skepticism from some treatment vendors
All that. And it’s really well done As far as outlining which treatment methods work for which constituents. And then for those how they work what [00:48:57] they cost it’s really a good guide. And and if I just stole part of your thunder, I apologize.
Frieda von Qualen: No, I’m glad you brought it up. It fell off the radar for a second. Yeah, a lot of work went into that and our subject matter experts spent a lot of time really thinking through those pieces. So we are delighted to hear that has been a helpful resource. I think that kind of dovetails, like with one of the upcoming things we would really love to do is get some that information transferred.
It will keep the original but also transferred into that Be Well Informed platform so that we have a Minnesota-specific way that people can just enter their results, see what their options, if they should be concerned, what their options might be.
Jennifer Wilson: Yeah, that’d be really cool.
Frieda von Qualen: If you have just an extra minute, I failed to mention when I was talking about how our program is set up in Minnesota, that we have the state side. Then we do have 10 boards of health that are also delegated well programs.
So in those situations it’s eight counties and then two cities. [00:49:57] They have programs. The state has delegated authority to, for the regulation of wells and their jurisdictions, and they’re very important pieces to all of this. And then also our well management program works in close collaboration with them.
So I just wanted to make sure we’re clear on that part. I failed to mention them earlier.
Steve Wilson: Oh, it’s all good.
Jennifer Wilson: It just highlights that, things are happening at all the levels, and it’s never gonna be like uniform or consistent. All we can do is understand the smallest level we can, what the relationships are, and how to get information between those levels and to the right people.
Are you on social media in any professional capacity where we could invite our listeners to follow you?
Frieda von Qualen: So yes, I am on LinkedIn. Technically speaking, I will be honest, I am not very active on there, but folks are certainly welcome to follow me and it’s a potential goal for this year to like leverage that platform a bit more. But through that you can see my email and everything.
Feel free to reach [00:50:57] out to me that way as well. It might be a faster response than trying to get me on LinkedIn. But folks are welcome to follow me there. It just may not be very exciting.
Jennifer Wilson: We’ll include that link in the show notes.
Frieda von Qualen: Perfect.
Jennifer Wilson: Thanks.
Frieda von Qualen: Perfect. Thank you and thanks for doing these podcasts too. It like, I really enjoy listening to them cuz it feels like I’m a part of that conversation. And I can imagine what that, I can hear what that person’s talking about. And I’m usually like taking notes of, oh, connect with on, X, Y, or Z.
So thank you for facilitating those connections and yeah, it also inspires a lot of ideas.
Steve Wilson: Awesome. Thanks for joining us today.