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Mississippi Private Well Populations

Publication Number: P2775
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For decades, Mississippians have enjoyed a plentiful groundwater supply, but the time has long since past when each individual home had its own well or cistern. Today, most Mississippians receive their drinking water from public water supplies, which are tested monthly for contaminants. If contaminants are found that exceed allowable levels, the public is notified immediately, and corrective action is taken. While this activity is vital to ensure the continuous, safe water supply we have come to expect, there are still a significant number of Mississippians who depend on private wells for their water.

The Mississippi State Department of Health’s (MSDH) Bureau of Public Water Supply, with authorization from the United States Environmental Protection Agency, serves as the regulatory body for the Safe Drinking Water Act in Mississippi. To carry out its role, the MSDH collects county-level data on the percentage of the population served by the county’s public water supply systems.

The decennial United States Census included questions on drinking water sources for households through 1990. These questions provided a comprehensive, reliable, and transparent method for calculating the number of people on private wells in any state or county. Since these questions were not included in the 2000 or 2010 censuses and the 1990 results have become outdated, estimating the percentage of state and county populations on private wells has become more challenging. Although census data on population are available and estimates of population served by public water supplies are reported by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Safe Drinking Water Information System[1], attempting to back-calculate the number of private well users with these datasets yields negative estimates. Some of the reasons for these incompatible numbers have been discovered during this research, and other datasets and methods are being explored to more accurately calculate the number of private well users in Mississippi.

Data Collection and Methods

County populations were determined using the United States Census Bureau’s 2018 data, which contains county population data for all Mississippi counties. The MSDH performs a capacity development assessment annually for every community public water supply (water system) in Mississippi. MSDH uses the number of connections for a particular water system multiplied by a factor of 2.6 people per connection to determine the number of people being served by that water system. Each water system is designated as being in a particular county, which allows a list of water systems to be generated for each county. Once this list is generated and the population of each water system calculated, a total population served by water systems in each county can be determined.

Inactive water systems may still have an identification number even though they are not in service. People who formerly depended on these inactive water systems are being served by another water system and are included in that water system’s population. To determine accurate population numbers served by water systems, the MSDH data was further analyzed, and all water systems classified as inactive (I) were removed from their county’s total population served. A margin of error exists for water systems that are identified with one county but serve populations that overlap into adjoining counties. Even though a water system’s population served is correct, it may not accurately reflect the population recorded as living in that county.

Not all public water system connections are residential; a substantial fraction of connections are to public buildings, businesses, and places of worship. This is likely to lead to a large overestimate in the Safe Drinking Water Information System of population served by public drinking water systems. An analysis conducted by the Mississippi office of the United States Geological Survey (USGS) found that approximately 15 percent of connections in urbanized counties were nonresidential. Although the exact percentage may vary between counties, applying a statewide estimate of 15 percent nonresidential connections will yield a more accurate calculation of the population served by public water supplies. This allows researchers to more accurately estimate the number of individuals by county who may receive their drinking water from a private well.

Results and Discussion

Results from the 2018 census show that 58 counties have populations that are not served by a public water system. The 58 counties are divided into three groups based on the number of people in the county’s population not being served by a public water system. Twenty-eight counties have a population of 1 to 3,000 not being served by a public water system; 23 counties have a population of 3,001 to 10,000 not being served by a public water system; and seven counties have a population of 10,001 and above not being served by a public water system.

It is important to note the actual population of a county using private wells. Considering overall county populations are not the same, it is possible for two counties to have the same or similar percentage but different populations using private wells. Tables 1, 2, and 3 delineate the actual populations that make up the percentages.

Table 1. County and water system populations/percentages of 10,001-plus.

Area

Population on public supply

Population on private well

% of county population on private well

MISSISSIPPI

2,601,702

382,398

12.81

Harrison

159,183

45,844

22.36

Jackson

110,445

31,707

22.31

Hinds

215,084

24,413

10.19

Marshall

16,548

19,071

53.54

Tate

13,693

14,748

51.85

DeSoto

165,211

13,540

7.57

Pearl River

44,139

11,131

20.14

United States Census Data 2018.

Mississippi State Department of Health–Bureau of Public Water Supply Capacity Development Assessment (Fiscal Year 2018).

Table 2. County and water system populations/percentages of 3,001 to 10,000.

Area

Population on public supply

Population on private well

% of county population on private well

Hancock

37,183

9,870

20.98

George

14,832

9,262

38.44

Lamar

54,230

7,144

11.64

Lafayette

47,441

6,933

12.75

Neshoba

22,586

6,783

23.10

Covington

12,381

6,698

35.11

Lincoln

28,378

5,969

17.38

Jones

62,009

5,921

8.72

Marion

19,839

5,230

20.86

Itawamba

18,289

5,219

22.20

Leake

17,511

5,204

22.91

Stone

13,132

4,980

27.49

Lowndes

54,376

4,810

8.13

Greene

8,545

4,800

35.97

Washington

41,431

4,790

10.36

Pike

35,957

4,450

11.01

Smith

12,036

4,042

25.14

Sunflower

22,367

3,614

13.91

Tallahatchie

10,542

3,583

25.37

Benton

4,830

3,482

41.89

Copiah

25,361

3,155

11.06

Newton

18,046

3,139

14.82

Panola

30,872

3,122

9.18

United States Census Data 2018.

Mississippi State Department of Health–Bureau of Public Water Supply Capacity Development Assessment (Fiscal Year 2018).

Table 3. County and water system populations/percentages of 1 to 3,000.

Area

Population on public supply

Population on private well

% of county population on private well

Perry

9,148

2,884

23.97

Wayne

17,579

2,867

14.02

Union

25,851

2,705

9.47

Bolivar

29,244

2,701

8.46

Clarke

13,210

2,618

16.54

Warren

44,453

2,315

4.95

Yazoo

24,933

2,124

7.85

Alcorn

35,179

2,031

5.46

Amite

10,430

2,018

16.21

Walthall

13,029

1,470

10.14

Pontotoc

30,264

1,376

4.35

Noxubee

9,454

1,288

11.99

Lee

83,731

1,202

1.42

Claiborne

7,857

1,093

12.21

Lawrence

11,560

1,083

8.57

Carroll

9,070

1,069

10.54

Quitman

6,397

872

11.99

Winston

17,487

759

4.16

Franklin

7,218

547

7.05

Lauderdale

75,637

518

0.68

Humphreys

8,029

313

3.75

Sharkey

4,151

284

6.41

Leflore

29,094

129

0.44

Coahoma

23,037

117

0.51

Attala

18,383

94

0.51

Issaquena

1,266

73

5.42

Yalobusha

12,432

65

0.52

Montgomery

10,142

31

0.30

United States Census Data 2018.

Mississippi State Department of Health–Bureau of Public Water Supply Capacity Development Assessment (Fiscal Year 2018).

 

Figure 1 shows each county that has a population of residents served by private wells; the counties are colored according to population range. It is noticeable that North Mississippi has a large population being served by private wells. Marshall, Tate, and DeSoto counties all have over 10,000 residents being served by private wells.

Central Mississippi has one county, Hinds, with a population over 10,000 being served by private wells.

South Mississippi also has a target area of counties with large populations being served by private wells. Harrison, Jackson, and Pearl River counties each have a 10,000-plus population being served by private wells.

All of the Mississippi counties noted in this study should be points of interest to local municipal water systems, local communities, and rural water associations for potential expansion of their water systems. The expansion of a public water system may achieve multiple goals. First, additional customers generate more revenue for the public water system and provide a larger customer base over which to spread costs. Second, the regulatory oversight of public water systems should promote and produce a safer drinking water supply for Mississippi residents.

For more information on private well populations in Mississippi and/or public water supplies, contact one of the following agencies:

Mississippi State Department of Health

Bureau of Public Water Supply

P.O. Box 1700

Jackson, MS 39215-1700

(601) 576-7518

 

Center for Government and Community Development

Mississippi State University Extension Service

P.O. Box 9643

Mississippi State, MS 39762

(662) 325-3141

 

Mississippi State Department of Health

Division of Onsite Wastewater

1-855-220-0192

www.healthyms.com/wwapply

Safe Drinking Water Information System (SDWIS) contains information about public water systems and their violations of EPA’s drinking water regulations, as reported to EPA by the states.

 

Publication 2775 (POD-03-19)

By Jason R. Barrett, PhD, Assistant Extension Professor, Center for Government and Community Development.

Copyright 2019 by Mississippi State University. All rights reserved. This publication may be copied and distributed without alteration for nonprofit educational purposes provided that credit is given to the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Produced by Agricultural Communications.

Mississippi State University is an equal opportunity institution. Discrimination in university employment, programs, or activities based on race, color, ethnicity, sex, pregnancy, religion, national origin, disability, age, sexual orientation, genetic information, status as a U.S. veteran, or any other status protected by applicable law is prohibited. Questions about equal opportunity programs or compliance should be directed to the Office of Compliance and Integrity, 56 Morgan Avenue, P.O. 6044, Mississippi State, MS 39762, (662) 325-5839.

Extension Service of Mississippi State University, cooperating with U.S. Department of Agriculture. Published in furtherance of Acts of Congress, May 8 and June 30, 1914. GARY B. JACKSON, Director

 

[1]Safe Drinking Water Information System (SDWIS) contains information about public water systems and their violations of EPA’s drinking water regulations, as reported to EPA by the states.

The Mississippi State University Extension Service is working to ensure all web content is accessible to all users. If you need assistance accessing any of our content, please email the webteam or call 662-325-2262.

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Authors

Assistant Extension Professor
Community Development, Economics & Natural Resources, Water & Wastewater Utilities, Municipal Utilit

Your Extension Experts

Assistant Extension Professor
Community Development, Economics & Natural Resources, Water & Wastewater Utilities, Municipal Utilit