Ms. Macpherson will be presenting a keynote speech on this topic at the International Water Association’s World Water Congress on Wednesday, September 19, 16:15-17:00 in room 1.
This week I have the honor of giving a keynote speech during the International Water Association’s World Water Congress. I’m taking the opportunity to discuss a topic that I am very passionate about—how we, as an industry, talk about new and old water, and efforts underway to develop a new vernacular for water across the urban water cycle.
I am going to kick-off the keynote by sharing “Downstream: A Simple Story about the Need for Water Reuse Technology for a Sustainable Future.” “Downstream” is a short video that was recently released by the WateReuse Association that has been found to enhance the understanding of the context of water use and reuse. The video was one of the products of the WateReuse Research Foundation study Effect of Prior Knowledge of Unplanned Potable Reuse on the Acceptance of Planned Potable Reuse, for which Dr. Shane Snyder of the University of Arizona and I were co-principal investigators on, with support from the research team that included Dr. George Tchobanoglous, Ian Law, Dr. Steven Johnson, Dr. Paul Slovic, Dr. Jorg Drewes and Emily Callaway, a researcher from CH2M HILL. Overall, the research found that the words, images, phrases and lack of context commonly used by the water industry to educate the public about water reuse in fact contribute to its stigmatization.
If you haven’t watched “Downstream” yet, I encourage you to do so now, and share it with your own network.
Water scarcity is regarded by many to be the single greatest threat to human and ecosystem health facing the world during this century. According to a US intelligence report, as water shortages become more acute, water in shared basins will increasingly be used as leverage and competition for scarce water and will fuel instability. Water and food security issues threaten political stability and raise the specter of widespread famine and/or conflict.
Still, we continue to act in ways that leave us vulnerable to these critical problems. Public rejection of municipal drinking water recycling projects has been attributed to the disgust often elicited by the thought of drinking water that has once contacted human waste, an effect referred to in the water reuse literature as the ‘‘yuck factor.” Unfortunately, we may be inviting such a reaction by failing to provide the public with a clear understanding of the physical context and history of current familiar raw water supply sources. Public enthusiasm for “drinking treated sewage” is understandably negative without reframed understanding of the context of water use and reuse.
However, when this information is presented to the public clearly, transparently, and without stigmatizing images, the WateReuse Research Foundation has shown that the public views water reuse as the smart, commonplace and sustainable strategy that it is. This is good news, as without community support for these projects our economies, health and futures are in real danger.
The time has come to look squarely at the “yuck factor” as an irrational fear contributed to by the absence of critically important context. We’ve portrayed our systems as linear from use (that has been branded to the toilet) to away (out of sight/out of mind). Do we, as an industry, have the capacity to get our minds out of the toilet and think of and talk about wastewater a resource stream? A valuable RESOURCE is not and should not be branded as a WASTE.
Reused or Reuseable?
Sludge or Biosolids?
Wastewater Plants or Resource Recovery Facility?
Effluent for Disposal or a Source of Water for Various Purposes?
Water, energy and fertilizer translate into life-sustaining benefits.
– Wastewater goes into a resource recovery plant (formerly known as a wastewater treatment plant)
– Energy, fertilizer and water come out
– The plant manufactures things we need to survive
Wastewater is a recoverable reusable resource! We have a goldmine of resources at our fingertips! Why aren’t we mining these resources for widespread good use? Because we’ve stigmatized the very thing we wanted to promote with negative images and language. The water and environment industry needs to take the lead in providing new, innovative, and culturally appropriate ways to create awareness, understanding, and knowledge before these changes can occur. If current approaches create barriers to a sustainable future, then simply asking people to change their behavior will not work unless their underlying beliefs support the changed dynamic. These beliefs will not change until we have holistic water and resource recovery perspectives. The water industry must be the change it wishes to see.
If you are at the World Water Congress, I hope you can join me for my keynote to think about how the vision of sustainable, vibrant, and viable global communities is unattainable by continued reductionist thinking in fragmented silos. This vision requires a different strategy, a system thinking approach to create holistic integrated and interdisciplinary solutions—successful examples of which I will share during my presentation.
Linda Macpherson is an expert and strategist for water reuse information and acceptance. She has been an integral part of groundbreaking projects such as introducing the public to the nation’s first poplar tree/wastewater reuse project in the United States to directing development of Singapore’s NEWater Visitor Centre. She has worked extensively in Australia delivering the iconic Gippsland Water Factory Visitor Centre and a Demonstration Visitor Centre in Perth for Water Corp. Her knowledge and commitment in these projects have brought her to the forefront of bridging the gap between the engineering/scientific community and the general public. Linda is often called upon to help diverse stakeholders build appreciation for both the technical and larger policy context of water issues. Linda serves on the Board of Directors of the WateReuse Association and Research Foundation.Tags: CH2M HILL Access Water, communication, IWA World Water Congress, Macpherson, resources, talking about water reuse, water reuse, Water-Energy Nexus, WateReuse Association