Date of Award

Winter 2019

Project Type


Program or Major

Civil Engineering

Degree Name

Master of Science

First Advisor

Weiwei Mo

Second Advisor

Michael R Collins

Third Advisor

Bridie McGreavy


Lead contamination in municipal drinking water is a national public health issue and is generally the result of water contact with leaded distribution piping and on-premise plumbing. As a result, the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Lead and Copper Rule requires point of use sampling methods at a small fraction of consumer taps on the public water distribution system. While this approach is practical, it leaves large gaps of consumers without direct monitoring and protection. In response, a novel contest-based crowdsourcing study was conducted to engage the public in monitoring their own water quality at their home taps and study factors that shaped participation in drinking water monitoring. Participants were asked to collect samples of their household drinking water through social media postings, kiosks, and community events with the chance to win a cash prize. The project distributed approximately 800 sampling packets and received 147 packets from participants of which 93% had at least partially completed surveys.

Part I of this thesis investigated lead levels, participant recruitment and demographic patterns, and motivations for participation. On average, private wells were found to have higher lead levels than the public water supply, and the higher lead levels were not attributed to older building age. There was also no statistical relevance between the participants’ perceived and actual tap water quality. Survey responses indicated that citizens were motivated to participate in the project due to concerns about their own health and/or the health of their families. In contrast, participants reported that they were not motivated by the cash prize. Part II of this thesis investigated the influence of socioeconomic characteristics on participants’ environmental literacy, behavior, and social networks. When looking at actions taken in response to water quality issues, income, age, and educational groups had some of the largest, significant, paired differences. With regards to knowledge, this project showed success in potentially improving citizen’s scientific literacy relating to key lead information, and overall provided self-assessed educational benefits to those who participated. This project helps inform future public engagement with water quality monitoring, create new knowledge about the influence of personal motivations for participation, and provide recommendations to help increase awareness of water quality issues. It also demonstrates that the crowdsourcing method could be used to actively engage and inform citizen participants in water quality monitoring efforts, creating a more scientifically literate and active public.