Positive language and effective explanation of reclaimed water using an urban water management context creates potential for broader acceptance of drinking water reuse.

By: Linda Macpherson, CH2M HILL Vice President, Reuse Principal Technologist, Senior Water Policy Planner, and Public Involvement Specialist

Linda Macpherson along with co-author Dr. S. Snyder, University of Arizona, will present their paper “Using New Context and Language To Shift Attitudes About Water Reuse” today, Monday, September 16  at 1:30 p.m. in B4  at the 28th Annual WateReuse Symposium 2013 in Denver, CO. Learn more about all of CH2M HILL’s WateReuse participation.

Public acceptance has been identified as a key issue that must be addressed in order for potable reuse to become a mainstay strategy for sustainable water supply. Opposition to reuse projects has been met with vocal public opposition that can stop a project from being implemented. Although public education and involvement are broadly acknowledged within the water industry as a way to overcome opposition, clear guidelines are lacking on how to communicate with the public to positively influence attitudes about reuse.

This paper explored the hypothesis that approaching the concept of drinking water reuse from an overall urban water cycle context may overcome the stigma and disgust that arises from the typical approach of describing the water as originating in a wastewater treatment plant. The purpose of this study was to use images and approaches to measure people’s responses to different drinking water reuse scenarios.

Qualitative research using focus groups in Australia and the United States showed that overcoming linear thinking related to water use appears to help promote acceptance of potable reuse.

The research approach used in our study of presenting water recycling within the context of the urban water cycle contrasts with the frequent approach of describing reuse with the stigmatizing term “treated wastewater” and asking the public to imagine drinking this water. This transparent and accurate context (that all water has a history of use and reuse), along with image-rich information, helped people to understand that water can be purified to be made drinkable again, its immediate and upstream history notwithstanding.

Overall, the water industry could increase acceptance of drinking water reuse by placing it in a larger, urban context and communicating about it holistically, rather than as a linear treatment process that emphasizes reclaimed water’s recent history in a wastewater treatment plant.

Macpherson will also participate in a Panel Discussion on Public Acceptance of Direct Potable Reuse on Tuesday, September 17 at 3:30 pm in D-9 at the conference.

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.