Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design


Forest Resource Management

Committee Chair

Robert C Burns

Committee Co-Chair

Jasmine Cardozo Moreira

Committee Member

Jinyang Deng

Committee Member

Steven Selin

Committee Member

David Smaldone


This dissertation investigates public perceptions of water quality in Morgantown, West Virginia. In recent years, water has become an increasingly critical issue in terms of quantity worldwide, and also in terms of quality. In developed countries such as the United States, water quality is often taken for granted by the general public. Nonetheless, recent water crises in Flint, Michigan and Charleston, West Virginia, are examples showing there are environmental risks associated with human activities. This dissertation explores the context of West Virginia, with coal mining that is decreasing and non-conventional oil and gas drilling that is increasing in the Appalachia region. The main focus of this dissertation is the understanding of tap water quality perceptions and drinking behaviors. The dissertation is divided in five chapters: introduction of the dissertation, context of West Virginia and risk perceptions, modeling drinking behaviors, model building with Structural Equation Modeling (SEM), and proximity analysis. Utilizing an online survey and a mailing survey, we contacted 5492 residents in Morgantown and surrounding areas in Monongalia County to ask them to take part in a research survey about water quality. With a total effective response rate of 11.3%, 603 persons completed the survey (88% residing within Morgantown). The main results of the dissertation are: (1) there exist potential risks of chemical spills in West Virginia, due to the impacts of human activities; (2) most residents are not aware of the quality of their water and do not have strong feelings about their water; (3) bottled water consumption is linked to lower education, lower environmental concern but to higher risks perceptions from drinking from the tap, as well as lower perceptions of organoleptic perceptions from the water (taste, odor, color); (4) using a water filter is mainly linked to higher incomes, low organoleptic perceptions and younger populations; (5) SEM was a useful technique to depict relationships between the different water quality perceptions; (6) SEM found evidence that the construct "Perceived Water Quality" has multicollinearity issues; (7) Proximity to horizontal wells affect water quality perceptions, but the effect size is rather small. The main implications of these results and this dissertation are the lack of communications from industries and governments to the public. There is a gap between what consumers should know and understand about their water quality. Better information from scientists and local decision-makers should be available to the general public in order to make the right choices for water management and environmental protection. Last but not least, this dissertation argues that education is an important issue for West Virginia water quality and the Appalachia Region in general.