Poll Finds Strong Support for Efforts to Improve Quality and Safety of Private Well Drinking Water

Amid Concerns Over Contaminants and Pending Legislation, The Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts Sponsors Survey by MassINC Polling Group

Media Contact: Greg Turner, Ball Consulting Group, LLC, Phone: 617-243-9950; Email: greg@ballcg.com



A new public opinion survey released today by the MassINC Polling Group finds broad support among Massachusetts residents for strengthening drinking water protections for private wells to ensure safety and quality. The survey was sponsored by The Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts as part of its Private Well Program to Protect Public Health led by grantee RCAP Solutions.

More than 500,000 Massachusetts residents rely on private wells for their drinking water, yet, unlike with public water systems, these sources are not subject to any statewide regulations or testing requirements. With manmade and naturally occurring contaminants found in private well water across the state, this gap and higher risk of exposure has prompted growing concern and calls for legislative action.

According to the poll, 73% of Massachusetts residents think well water should be protected in the same way as other sources of drinking water. Nearly all of those polled agree that all Massachusetts residents should have access to safe drinking water (97%) and that state government should play a role in achieving that goal (92%). There was a clear majority supporting these statements, regardless of demographics or party affiliation.

The poll also found a worrisome gap in well water testing rates. Only 21% of well users had tested their water in the past year and another 21% were not sure when their water was last tested. Just over half (53%) of well users reported they had not paid anything for well testing or maintenance in the past year.

Other key findings from the survey:

  • Three-quarters (75%) support proposed legislation to enable the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection to develop statewide private well protections.
  • There was even stronger support (80%) when it was explained that the proposed legislation includes financial support for remediation of contamination for low-income homeowners with private wells.
  • A clear majority (57%) “strongly support” testing well water before a home is sold, and 72% of private well owners support such a policy to some extent (“strongly support” or “somewhat support”).

“The results of this poll demonstrate widespread support for improving access to safe drinking water and for developing greater protections and uniform testing standards for private well owners throughout the Commonwealth,” said Amie Shei, President and CEO of The Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts. “All Massachusetts residents should have access to safe drinking water regardless of where they live and whether they have access to public water systems or private wells.”

Many homeowners in Massachusetts are facing substantial costs over contamination found in their private wells, including water sources exposed to PFAS, synthetic substances known as “forever chemicals” because of their persistence and prevalence in the environment.

The poll results were unveiled today during a legislative briefing at the State House organized by The Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts, RCAP Solutions, and the Coalition for Safe Drinking Water which was launched as part of this project. The event highlighted pending legislation, An Act Promoting Drinking Water Quality for All (S.482/H.902), sponsored by Sen. Jamie Eldridge (D-Marlborough), Rep. Dan Sena (D-Acton) and Rep. Smitty Pignatelli (D-Lenox). The bill is scheduled for a public hearing before the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Environment and Natural Resources on Sept. 27.

The survey took a deep dive into general perceptions of public and well water quality. Majorities at least somewhat agree that they worry about whether their water is safe to drink  (61%) and that not everyone in Massachusetts has safe tap water (63%).

In an urban-rural breakdown of the data, those living in western Massachusetts – where private wells are more common – and in Suffolk County – home to the city of Boston and served by a public water supply – rated their water quality at home as “excellent” at higher rates than those living in other parts of the state. But those living in Massachusetts’ Gateway Cities – midsize urban areas served by public water and historically affected by socioeconomic challenges – reported their home tap water quality levels are lower than elsewhere.

The results are based on a survey of 1,013 Massachusetts residents by the MassINC Polling Group. Responses were collected via online survey Aug. 7-16, 2023, in English and Spanish.  Data was weighted to known and estimated population parameters on age, gender, race, party identification, education and geography. The credibility interval for the survey is +/- 3.4 percentage points, including the design effect. 

Detailed poll data is available online at the following link: https://www.massincpolling.com/the-topline/water-quality-poll

Tracey Weeden, MSW, LCSW/LICSW; RCAP Solutions Board of Directors, Vice Chair

Tracey Weeden is the Executive Director of Brockton Behavioral Health Facility at Boston Medical Center and joined the RCAP Solutions Board of Directors in January of 2021.

She has extensive experience in the healthcare and nonprofit arena, with a background in administration, behavioral health, and homelessness prevention. In her previous position as Chief Operating Officer for First Step of Sarasota, she focused on affordable behavioral health treatment and system of care optimization. She also has experience managing a private practice as a psychotherapist.

Tracey was drawn to social work because of her childhood experiences growing up in an urban environment. She remarked “there was a lot of violence, parentification, mental illness, and substance misuse. But amid the prevalence of trauma, there was also so much hope for a better way of life. At an early age I was interested in other people’s stories and potential. When I went to college, I did not know what I wanted to do, but knew I wanted to break the cycle of oppression in the community I had grown up in. I majored in social work, and it just felt right. At an early age, I felt sensitive to others’ needs and seemed to be able to put myself in someone else’s shoes. Although I don’t make it a practice to disclose my experiences, oftentimes I deeply understand the barriers to quality of life clients experience.”

Tracey is a former employee of RCAP Solutions, where she was a member of the leadership team, as Director of Counseling and Homeless Services. “When I was at RCAP, I absolutely loved the work,” she commented. “Working at RCAP, I showed up 100% every day for the organization and our clients. They were long days, but it was all worth it. RCAP is deeply mission driven. RCAP’s services for people in need is undeniable. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of a community, helping people where they are and supporting them as they move to a better place? RCAP’s work aligns with my values and everything I stand for as a social worker, a woman, and a woman of color.”

Tracey went on to say “RCAP’s work comes down to people helping people. This resonates with me and is what’s unique about RCAP. The employees genuinely want their clients to achieve a better quality of life. At RCAP we are paying it forward.”

Tracey feels strongly about being an active board member. “I want to be a real objective resource to the leadership team and a sounding board. I understand the culture and dynamics as a social worker and as a businesswoman.”

When talking about her experience serving on the board, Tracey exclaimed, “It’s been fun! I like the diverse expertise the volunteer team brings to the table. The board is open to looking at things differently and trying new ideas. This will determine the sustainability of the organization overall. The board is engaged, understands the impact of the work, and is realistic about what it takes to provide services. It’s very exciting to be a part of this energized board.”

When asked about her future goals for the organization, she replied, “I hope that a year from now we are in the process of implimenting a successful, operational, and people-driven strategic plan. I believe we can really put RCAP on the map as a leader in all aspects of community and environmental services.”

Tracey is a self-published author and has volunteered for the City of Worcester’s Human Rights Commission and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s suicide prevention initiative. She is currently a Commissioner for the Massachusetts Status of Woman of Plymouth County. Tracey earned a MS in social work at Boston University and is working towards her Doctorate degree in Business Administration with a focus in Health Services Administration at Northcentral University. She brings a deep understanding of the programmatic, funding, and strategic needs of the organization, along with nonprofit leadership, fundraising and community outreach.

When asked about her personal and professional achievements, Tracey commented, “it was always a goal for me to do more of the work in helping others to grow and lift themselves out of traumatic environments. I’m proud of that. In this field of social work, there are not many Black People or Native Americans in leadership positions. I don’t see a lot of “me” represented and I will never take it for granted. I hope to be an example and to inspire others.”

In her free time, Tracey enjoys creating things. “I love candle making, jewelry making, upcycling furniture, gardening, and creating a new space in my yard or home. It helps me relax. Being creative helps me to think outside of the box overall. I enjoy focusing on the hobby and it’s extremely relaxing for me.”

This workshop will discuss six (6) topics:

  • Day 1 is SDWA Regulatory Overview, Large Building WQ issues, Main Breaks/Cross Connections
  • Day 2 is Flushing, Contaminants of Concern: Manganese, Source Water Assessment and Protection

This “Basic Math” course is a refresher course for those looking to brush up on their basic math skills, whether for daily operation calculations or in preparation for an operator’s exam. We will start at the beginning, quickly covering the basics of rounding, fractions, percentages, and geometry, then will spend a bit more time on conversion factors and re-arranging equations.

RCAP Solutions’ 2022 Impact Report – A Year of Rejuvenation

2022 was a year marked by growth, development, and ultimately rejuvenation as RCAP Solutions began its rebound from a tumultuous and transformational time. View our 2022 Impact Report to learn more about last year’s accomplishments and check out stories from the people we serve!

We thank our partners and continued supporters and invite you to join us as we continue to work towards a collective vision of a world made up of strong and resilient communities and individuals, confident in their potential and with ownership of their success.

We look forward to a productive 2023 as we remain steadfast in our commitment to fulfilling our mission: To foster personal and public self-reliance and improve the quality of life for individuals, families, and the communities in which they live.

Synergy Spotlight: Meet Rebekah Novak, Community Specialist

Rebekah Novak is her name and wastewater is her game, among several other skills and subject interests. Rebekah has a versatile background; she’s worked in several municipal surveying, engineering, and wastewater operations roles – making her an extremely valuable addition to the Community & Environmental Resources team at RCAP Solutions.

She began her career as an intern for the city of New Bedford, Massachusetts’ engineering department, eventually becoming a full-time employee and earning the title of Municipal Surveyor. During her time with the city of New Bedford, Rebekah was responsible for transferring paper maps into digital GIS (Geographic Information System) versions. She also worked in the field overseeing road reconstruction and improvement projects.

Two of Rebekah’s passions are learning and helping. While she was working as a surveyor, Rebekah continued to expand her knowledge, pursuing her wastewater operator’s license and eventually earning a grade 5 license. Rebekah had always been fascinated with water re-use and environmental sustainability. Turning wastewater into treated effluent (sewage that has been cleaned and discharged back into the environment) is a necessary process for communities of all sizes, and this process piqued Rebekah’s interest.

After working as an associate engineer for several years, Rebekah eventually dived head-first into wastewater (not literally), first working at the Ashfield Wastewater Treatment Plant, a few years later at the city of Northampton, Massachusetts’ Wastewater Treatment Plant, and later at Green Wastewater Solutions as an operator/installer of Orenco wastewater treatment systems.

Rebekah prided herself in being a female who was tackling these surveying, engineering, and wastewater roles – as the fields are often male-dominated. It was difficult, but her determination and drive helped her excel in these fields. “Being a woman straight out of college was super intimidating,” she said, “but I still did it. I still showed up and did my best.”

Rebekah eventually joined RCAP Solutions in 2019, where she works with small communities in Massachusetts, providing technical assistance and training to help them improve both their wastewater and drinking water operations. Rebekah lives in a small, rural community herself, so she recognizes the struggles that these communities face when it comes to limited resources and not knowing the answer to everything. Advice she gives to the communities she serves – as well as her co-workers – is to embrace trial-and-error, “Get comfortable with not knowing exactly what to do, it’s okay not to know. [You have to] jump in the muddy water and figure out how to do it.”

During the pandemic, Rebekah was instrumental in transitioning in-person trainings and workshops into a virtual format. She embraced new software and became a leader for her colleagues, constantly offering them support and assistance with the new technology. In addition to managing numerous training events, she also has anywhere from 10 to 13 of the aforementioned technical assistance projects active at a time.

Rebekah’s contributions were noted by Jim Starbard, Regional Director (MA/CT/RI), who said, “Rebekah is an exceptional team member who goes the extra mile for the communities she works with. She is highly skilled in wastewater – both centralized and decentralized, GIS, and is a great trainer. Rebekah’s contributions to the Southern New England Team and RCAP Solutions as a whole are greatly appreciated and highly regarded.”

In addition, Rebekah is passionate about many causes including local farming, sourcing food locally and humanely, and supporting small businesses. She has experience volunteering at a homeless shelter and during her free time enjoys gardening, arts and crafts, and spending time with her husband, two cats, and “Hoss” – her 180-pound Neapolitan Mastiff-Great Dane mix.

Andrew Evans, fellow Community Specialist, added, “Rebekah’s organizational capability, attitude, and attention to detail makes her one of my favorite people to work with. Whatever the project or training she is always seeking the best product or outcome possible for our clients. The way she approaches her work has helped me be a better technical assistance provider and trainer.”

Fun Facts About Rebekah:

  • Hometown: Conway, Massachusetts
  • Favorite Book: Harry Potter series by series by J. K. Rowling
  • Favorite Movie: Tremors directed by Ron Underwood
  • Favorite Hobbies: Gardening (flowers & vegetables), arts & crafts (dot art painting, jewelry making)
  • Place She’d Like to Travel to: Alaska

Gosnold is a town which encompasses the Elizabeth Islands in Dukes County, Massachusetts. The community has a population of about 70 residents, making it the least populous town in Massachusetts. Most of these residents live on the outermost island, Cuttyhunk.

The beautiful landscapes and ocean views make this community a well sought-after travel destination and the year-round residents have a deep appreciation for the island. However, the island’s seclusion poses several challenges for infrastructure improvements. Personnel, equipment, and materials must be brought to the island via boat, significantly increasing costs.

Cuttyhunk Island’s drinking water comes from an underground aquifer, which is drawn from a series of groundwater wells. These wells, and the island’s distribution system water mains, were constructed in the 1960s. Due to the age of this infrastructure, the community has had frequent problems with leaks and breaks in the water mains.

To address these issues, the community began planning a significant water system improvement project to replace the groundwater wells, upgrade their water pumping station, and improve their storage tank site. In addition, several thousand feet of water mains would be replaced or repaired to ensure residents across the island had continued access to clean drinking water.

RCAP Solutions leapt into action to assist the community in finding and securing funding for the system improvements. After reviewing the community’s plan and engineering report, RCAP Solutions determined that the best funding option available would be through the United States Department of Agriculture.

RCAP Solutions acted as a liaison between the community’s board of selectmen and the USDA staff. The RCAP Solutions team worked alongside the board of selectmen every step of the way, from the initial application to implementation, ensuring the necessary paperwork was submitted and deadlines were met. In addition, RCAP Solutions persists to be an available resource for the community, providing them with continued technical assistance, resources, and training opportunities.

In total, approximately $5.7 million was leveraged for the project, including around $3 million from USDA Rural Development and around $2.7 million from various state programs and town matching funds. To celebrate this milestone, the community held a groundbreaking event and walking tour as construction on the project began.

Open for Business Program Case Study: Neck-O Pillow, Supportive Guidance to Launch a Supportive Product

Written By: Madison Wellman, Coalition Manager/Business Opportunity Specialist

BACKGROUND: Ms. Ellen Sheehan is a dental hygienist from Wilmington, Massachusetts. While working in the dental office she noticed a need for a new product; an ergonomic pillow to support the necks of her patients on and off the dental chair. After much hard work, Ms. Sheehan developed a prototype pillow in her spare time that she felt was ready for full production. She approached Workers Credit Union for financing to launch her new enterprise, Neck-O Pillow. Workers Credit Union could see the value in Ms. Sheehan’s business, but in order to secure the loan she needed an appropriate business plan and projections, neither of which Ms. Sheehan was prepared to produce on her own.

THE CHALLENGE: Entrepreneurial success requires, among other things, a broad skillset including accounting, marketing, planning, and managerial skills. The easiest way to develop these skills is through experience and formal business education. However, these avenues are not equally accessible to all aspiring entrepreneurs. This disparity has produced a shared sense of underdeveloped entrepreneurial capacity in communities across the country, both urban and rural. Lack of educational opportunities, poor connectivity infrastructure, and a general absence of human capital capable of providing mentorship and expertise in our communities all contribute to the high business failure rate in our nation’s villages, small towns, and even larger cities. RCAP is striving to surmount these obstacles by delivering the absent human capital to communities across the country in a cost-effective manner. In meeting this challenge, RCAP is building permanent entrepreneurial capacity among every-day Americans.

THE APPROACH & SOLUTION: To rise to the challenge detailed above, RCAP launched the Open for Business Program. The program delivers business expertise to rural communities through webinars, online workshops, and one-on-one business consultations made available to entrepreneurs at no cost. All services are delivered remotely to reduce cost and maximize geographic reach.

Ellen Sheehan utilized this program to receive free guidance from RCAP’s experienced consultants. The RCAP consulting team worked with Ms. Sheehan to develop her business plan and financial projections to model her path to success. At the time of this writing, Ms. Sheehan received 159.5 hours of free one-on-one consulting assistance.

THE IMPACT: The most tangible impact of the assistance received by Ms. Sheehan is the business plan and projections that she was able to produce with the guidance of our senior consultants. These documents enabled Ms. Sheehan to return to Workers Credit Union and successfully apply for SBA small business financing. With her secured capital, Ms. Sheehan was able to contract with a Massachusetts-based contract manufacturer to begin production of her pillows. The senior consulting team was also able to advise Ms. Sheehan on her digital marketing strategy and guide her in the complicated process of becoming a successful seller on Amazon. Today, she is steadily making sales and receiving substantial traffic on her website.

Despite these material benefits to Ms. Sheehan and her business, the greatest impact may be more intangible. The projections Ms. Sheehan produced with the assistance of our team did convince the lender that Ms. Sheehan’s business had great potential for growth but more importantly, it convinced Ms. Sheehan that her business idea was feasible and has the potential to grow into a successful enterprise.

In a follow-up interview conducted for the purposes of this case study, Ms. Sheehan shared that over one year since she first engaged with RCAP she still looks back at the original projections she made with our team for inspiration. “Seeing that growth potential on paper still keeps me going,” Ms. Sheehan reported. Ms. Sheehan went on to share that the knowledge our consultants brought to her was invaluable and that their flexible availability and positive demeanor reassured her that she, and Neck-O Pillow, could succeed. If not for RCAP’s Open for Business Program, it is likely that Ms. Sheehan never would have launched Neck-O Pillow. In her own words, “getting your contact info was the best thing that could have happened to me…I don’t think I could have done this without you guys.”

RCAP Solutions and the New England Water Environment Association (NEWEA) are hosting an in-person workshop for small and rural wastewater utilities to build financial, managerial, and operational capacity for their systems. Coffee, donuts, and lunch are included.

This course is intended to inform environmental health professionals everything they need to know about private wells. Topics will include:

  • Private Wells vs. Public Water Systems
  • Groundwater and Well Construction
  • Common Contaminants and Testing

Need help managing your finances? Interested in developing a sustainable spending plan? At this workshop you will learn about managing personal finances and be empowered to make better decisions in order to achieve financial stability for yourself and your family!

Proposed Legislation Would Enable Statewide Drinking Water Protections and Financial Assistance for Massachusetts Households With Private Wells

Right now, many Massachusetts residents who rely on private wells are consuming water that may be unsafe. Over 500,000 people throughout the Commonwealth rely on these wells, yet there are no statewide regulations to ensure private well water is safe from harmful contaminants such as PFAS, arsenic, radon, uranium, and more. In contrast, public water systems are regulated by the state and are subject to routine monitoring.

In January 2023, Senator Jamie Eldridge, Representative Dan Sena, and Representative Smitty Pignatelli filed legislation which would provide equitable access to safe drinking water for all Massachusetts residents – regardless of where they live and what their financial resources are.

An Act Promoting Drinking Water Quality for All (S.482/H.902) would enable the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) to develop regulations which would provide minimum statewide water quality standards for private wells supplying drinking water.

The regulations themselves would be developed by drinking water experts at MassDEP, likely in consultation with a technical advisory group and with a process for public input. To maximize public benefit, the bill would require MassDEP to evaluate practices to minimize the paperwork burden for affected parties.

In addition, the bill would expand the existing MassHousing Septic Repair Loan Program (SRLP) to provide low-income homeowners with access to financial assistance to remediate contaminated private wells.

“The importance of testing your well water is reflected in this important legislation put forth by Senator Eldridge, Representative Sena, and Representative Pignatelli,” said Brian D. Scales, President & CEO of RCAP Solutions. “Too many homeowners take for granted that their water is safe and clean. Water is all around us, we bathe in it, cook with it, and drink it on a daily basis. The only way to ensure all this water is clean and safe to consume is to have it tested.”

“We are grateful for the leadership of Senator Eldridge, Representative Sena, and Representative Pignatelli in addressing long-standing drinking water inequities,” explained Amie Shei, PhD, President & CEO of The Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts. “The state regulates the wastewater leaving a home, yet it does not regulate private well water entering a home and being consumed. This legislation closes an important gap in access to safe drinking water.”

RCAP Solutions and The Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts are working together to improve access to safe drinking water for private well owners. From 2020 to 2022, the Private Well Program to Protect Public Health, which has received nearly $1.5 million in grant funding from the Foundation, has conducted over 500 water quality tests across several Massachusetts towns and found that approximately 32% of wells had levels of contaminants exceeding state health standards and/or suggesting potential health risks. The Coalition for Safe Drinking Water was recently formed as a way to engage a wide range of stakeholders in working together to ensure safe drinking water for all Massachusetts residents.

For more information about this legislation, our private well programming, and the Coalition for Safe Drinking Water, please visit: www.whatsinyourwellwater.org.