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Model Communication Plans for Increasing Awareness and Fostering Acceptance of Direct Potable Reuse

Project: 13-02
Type: Communications Tool
Year Released: 2015

Program: Principal
Funding Partner: Metropolitan Water District
Total Investment: $597,356 (Cash: $337,125, In-Kind: $260,231)

Principal Investigators: Mark Millan, Data Instincts, Public Outreach Consultants, Patricia A. Tennyson, Katz & Associates, Inc., and Shane Snyder, Professor and Co-Director Chemical and Environmental Engineering, University of Arizona


Potable reuse involves the use of a proven and reliable technology to purify recycled water so that it can safely supplement the drinking water supplies of communities. It is especially valuable to communities in water-scarce regions. Experience among water agencies and municipalities has shown, however, that public acceptance of direct potable reuse (DPR) is one of the primary challenges facing this source of water supply.

Goals and Objectives

The project:

  • Conducted a literature review and review of previous research to learn what is currently known in regard to DPR acceptance and attempted approaches for communication,
  • Gathered information from key audiences to be used to formulate a draft of: a) Strategic Communication Plan, b) Model Community Outreach plan, and c) Outreach Plan for Community Leaders,
  • Shared results from research conducted. Integrated findings into Communication Plans. Got input and buy-in from PAC members on how research results are integrated with final deliverables. Complete each of the 4 final deliverables.

Research Approach

The project is the first of a two-phased approach toward fostering acceptance of potable reuse. To develop the communication plans for the first phase, the project team first conducted an extensive literature review of previous research related to potable reuse acceptance. Next, a series of one-on-one meetings was held with individuals involved with potable reuse projects in their communities, as well as with legislators and special interest groups. The findings from the literature review and interviews were used to develop a set of messages that were then tested in focus groups and in telephone surveys in two communities.

Findings and Conclusions

One of the critical elements that the WateReuse Research Foundation identified as necessary to build support and acceptance of direct potable reuse is a written communication plan for public outreach that describes how to engage the various target audiences who will help to make or break potable reuse options. Model Communication Plans for Increasing Awareness and Fostering Acceptance of Direct Potable Reuse consists of communication plan documents in two areas:

  • a state-level communication plan
  • a community-level outreach plan

In addition to public outreach strategies, both communication plans include messaging platform components with public outreach tools and tactics. The plans are flexible documents, with tools and tactics designed to be adapted to the specific needs and situations of an individual community. They will be useful whether pursuing indirect potable reuse (IPR) or DPR options.

The project’s findings provide those involved with or planning a potable reuse project with a catalog of promising and proven methods and messages for advancing potable reuse. The combination of literature review, face-to-face meetings, and public opinion research indicates that public acceptance of potable reuse can be achieved by implementing a coordinated, consistent, and transparent communication plan.

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