The experience of urban water recycling and the development of trust

Author: June Sylvia Marks

Marks, June Sylvia, 2003 The experience of urban water recycling and the development of trust, Flinders University, School of Social and Policy Studies

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Water scarcity and water pollution are ongoing problems that require a rethinking of water use in the community. This calls for cooperation between the expert systems of water supply and sewerage as well as some level of public involvement. It is the interaction between the experts or providers, and the public as users or customers, that is the focus of this study on the experience of recycling water sourced from sewage effluent. This cross-national research explores the drivers behind water reuse; the way water reuse is presented to the public for consideration; the public response to water reuse; the influence of environmental and public health risk concerns; and the function of trust in the acceptance of potable water reuse and the sustainability of non potable reuse. The absence of social science published literature relating to the experience of recycled water guided a grounded theory approach to this research, using a triangulation of methods for data collection and case study analysis. The social-psychological studies of Bruvold (1972-1988), located in water industry literature, were consulted to organise an audit of secondary, survey data obtained through industry contacts and fieldwork. In this way, acceptance of potable and non potable water reuse in the USA, UK and Australia is mapped to provide background data for a set of minor case studies that explore the experience of potable reuse. Residential water reuse experience is investigated through embedded case study research. Primary data were collected at two residential sites in Adelaide and two in Florida. Recycled water is used for garden watering and toilet flushing at New Haven, and is planned for Mawson Lakes in Adelaide. Altamonte Springs and Brevard County in Florida recycle water for garden watering and outdoor uses only. Twenty residents were interviewed at each site involving semi-structured interviews: in-depth, face-to-face interviews in Adelaide and telephone interviews on site in Florida. Individual managers of the recycled water systems were also interviewed and, at New Haven, additional key stakeholders were consulted. Qualitative data analysis, employing a grounded theory approach, discovered the value of Sztompka's (1999) framework for the 'social becoming of trust'. This research illustrates that the positive historical culture of trust at the Florida sites, coupled with robust structural support for residential water reuse that encourages positive provider-customer interactions, develops trust in non potable reuse and uses involving a higher level of contact. In the Adelaide sites, weak structural support induces reliance on informal structure that increases the public health risk, jeopardising the sustainability of residential reuse. In relation to potable reuse experience that centres on the Californian experience, a social dilemma is created through a strategic, marketing approach to public consultation and the lack of public communication on current water sources. Sztompka's (1999) framework for trust as an ongoing process is expanded to include principles of public participation that will further consolidate trust in water reuse to achieve sustainable outcomes.

Keywords: water reuse,water recycling,public perceptions,risk,trust

Subject: Sociology thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2003
School: School of Social and Policy Studies
Supervisor: Dr Maria Zadoroznyj