eNews July 2021

NMSU Student Awarded Research Grant to Study Household Water Insecurity in Doña Ana County

NMSU Student Awarded Research Grant to Study Household Water Insecurity in Doña Ana County

By Marcus Gay, NM WRRI Senior Student Program Coordinator

Household water insecurity (HWI) is the experience of living with limited access to water both in terms of quantity and quality. HWI is common in the colonias of Doña Ana County, New Mexico. Colonias are underdeveloped communities along the U.S.-Mexico border and often lack critical infrastructure, such as safe, treated, and piped water. In Doña Ana County, residents of these colonias have had to adapt and cope with inadequate access to quality water. Research has shown that HWI is a social determinant of health, which is reflected in multiple health disparities such as elevated mental distress and food insecurity. Therefore, the strategies that individuals living in these water-insecure households use to adapt and cope have the potential to impact the physical and mental health of colonia residents. An urgent need exists for a research project that focuses on HWI as a means to ensure community health and individual well-being. Research on individuals, households, and communities coping with water insecurity is critical to developing effective people-centered interventions.

In order to address the need for research concerning how people adapt their daily lives to HWI, Hailey Taylor, a master’s student at New Mexico State University’s Anthropology Department, has been awarded an NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant. The objective of the project entitled, Living with Water-Insecurity: How do people adapt and cope with poor water quality and access?, aims to determine how residents of colonias in Doña Ana County, who live with HWI, adapt and cope with inadequate water quality and/or access. The project also aims to explore the potential impacts HWI and related coping mechanisms have on individuals’ physical and mental health.

Under the guidance of her faculty advisor, Dr. Kathryn Olszowy, Taylor will utilize a qualitative ethnographic approach and 30-45 minute semi-structured interviews to address the following goals: 1) define the experiences of those living in water-insecure households, including their observations and perspectives on HWI and how it interacts with other household conditions like food insecurity; 2) identify strategies that individuals living in water-insecure households use to adapt to and cope with inadequate water quality and/or access; and 3) determine how individuals’ experiences of HWI impacts their overall health and well-being.

Expected results from this portion of the project include information on the strategies individuals use to cope with water access and quality issues, how colonia communities perceive and respond to high rates of HWI, and how HWI interacts with other structural factors that impact health disparities. According to Taylor, “Both the research topic (water insecurity) and the research context (colonias of Doña Ana County) are severely understudied, [and] there is an urgent need for data on both [because] present interventions to address these issues are insufficient due to a lack of context-specific data available to guide intervention design.”

Taylor hopes to make the data generated by this project available to the public, and to entities that can assist in the development of public health interventions addressing HWI, as well as any potential health consequences identified by this research. The long-term goal is to translate these findings into community-based strategies for dealing with water insecurity across Doña Ana County and other colonia communities in the U.S.-Mexico border region. Taylor plans to present her research at the 2022 Human Biology Association Annual Meeting and the 66th Annual New Mexico Water Conference in October.

Taylor, who has lived in the El Paso area for over a decade, has a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology with a minor in Public Health. Taylor is not only working on her master’s degree in Anthropology with an emphasis in Biological Anthropology, but she is also enrolled as a Master’s of Public Health student with a focus in Health Behavior and Health Promotion. Taylor plans on graduating with her MA in 2022 and her MPH in 2024. After graduation, Taylor plans on continuing her education with a PhD in Anthropology and plans on continuing her career as an academic researcher in the field of biological/medical anthropology both in the U.S. and abroad. As Taylor explains, “I hope to work primarily in anthropological research; though I have additional interests in teaching, applied work/outreach, and academic writing and publishing. I expect to go where my research interests take me and are needed, and I am greatly looking forward to what lies ahead in my future as a practicing anthropologist.”