A comparison of water-related perceptions and practices among residents living in colonias in west Texas and south New Mexico, relying on container or well water

Lydia Berenice Garcia Cobos, University of Texas at El Paso


In the U.S. - Mexico border region, colonia residents must cope with the lack of clean water supply and other basic sanitary services. Because of the lack of infrastructure, colonia residents rely on alternative water supplies including either private wells or hauled water stored in large above-ground containers. Little is known about residents' perceptions of their water supplies, their use practices, and how water-related use and perceptions might differ between colonia residents relying on well water or container water. The purpose of this study was to examine the water-related perceptions and practices of people living in colonias, and to compare water-use perceptions and practices, and health conditions among colonias using different sources of unregulated water (well water vs. container water). This study included a total of 46 residents (24 from west Texas and 22 from New Mexico). This study analyzed data collected during a water treatment sustainability and feasibility project in the Colonias. Residents completed a descriptive survey that included items pertaining to water use perceptions, practices, quality, and perceived health outcomes. Results showed that over ninety-percent of these very low-income participants purchased additional water for drinking purposes (bottled water or from watermills). Approximately seventy percent of participants had negative perceptions of their water supplies with regard to water safety, taste, and smell. Furthermore, forty-four percent of participants were concerned about having experienced waterborne illness from their water source. Overall, water treatment and testing were not practiced among colonia residents. Groups did not differ on factors such as water purchased; water related-illness; and perceived water quality. Secondary exploratory analyses suggested that even though participants had significant concerns about the quality and safety of their water source many consumed the water for cooking or making beverages. Water source did not influence these discrepancies between perception and practice. The results from this study suggested that well-water and container water are equally poor substitutes for a regulated water supply. Discrepancies between perceptions and practice indicated that their water situations seriously decreased quality of life for residents. This study added to the small literature on this topic by examining current water use practices among residents living in the colonias along the U.S./Mexico border region. The results suggested the need to further examine water-related perceptions and practices of people living in colonias using unregulated water sources. The results could be used to promote critical practices such as improved water treatment practices. This study has implications for public health practice in providing information regarding the conditions in which colonia residents are living. Increased awareness of these conditions by the general public may eventually lead to new solutions for supporting the wellness of this population along the border region.

Subject Area

Public health

Recommended Citation

Cobos, Lydia Berenice Garcia, "A comparison of water-related perceptions and practices among residents living in colonias in west Texas and south New Mexico, relying on container or well water" (2014). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI1557760.