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Creating a Clearinghouse of Knowledge-Based Resources on Public Acceptance of Water Reuse and Desalination

Project: 12-08
Year Released: 2014
Type: Communication Tool

Principal Investigators: Bahman Sheikh, James Crook


Water reuse is a relatively new concept in many communities in the world, even though it has been practiced for more than a century in some regions. Potable reuse and desalination are expected to provide the most abundant future sources of new water supplies for the burgeoning populations of many communities worldwide. Yet, the seeming newness of the concept makes many people squeamish and uncomfortable about completing the cycle in what might appear at first to be such an abrupt way.

Goals and Objectives

The purpose of creating the clearinghouse is to make informational resources about public acceptance for water reuse easily and readily available to decision-makers, managers, engineers, communication specialists, and others so that they can begin planning their public education and acceptance strategies in the early stages of developing water resources projects.

Research Approach

Exhaustive literature searches, both traditional, and web-based, were conducted to compile a collection of papers, books, book chapters and other published and unpublished resources with a focus on public acceptance of water reuse and desalination from throughout the world. Peer reviewed and gray literature were equally sought and compiled.  In particular, proceedings of conferences sponsored by major associations with an interest in water and wastewater were reviewed for relevant information.  Also, scientific and technical search engines were used to unearth relevant literature from publications not normally known to publish material related to water reuse and desalination.  Several colleagues active in the field were solicited for contributions from their own collections of resources.

Findings and Conclusions

Only 49 documents were classified as being desalination-related, in contrast to over 200 papers related to water reuse.  Eighteen papers are included bearing no direct relevance to either water reuse nor desalination—they are included because of their direct relevance to issues of stigma, contagion, associative attitudes, and other related psychological influences on public attitude toward water resource issues.  There is much in the literature about the so-called “yuck factor”, reflecting the humanity’s primeval revulsion and disgust toward anything associated with one’s own bodily wastes.

One of the striking findings from this project is the apparent lack of awareness of numerous researchers about similar work completed in prior years, even decades.  Creation of this clearinghouse should be of assistance to future researchers, so that the field can be moved forward in addition to repeatedly confirming previous findings.

Simply categorizing the research by type of reuse will be helpful insofar as it aids in finding relevant items for a particular project at a particular location. It is recognized that delineations between direct and indirect potable reuse are not always very sharply defined.  Nor is such distinction necessarily conducive to better public image of potable water reuse.  Use of this particular categorization is advised with caution as it may hide relevant and important informational resources otherwise available in the Clearinghouse.

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