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The results of a forthcoming WateReuse Research Foundation study titled Effect of Prior Knowledge of Unplanned Potable Reuse on the Acceptance of Planned Potable Reuse have 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. One of the products of this work, “Downstream” was found to enhance understanding of the context of water use and reuse. The WateReuse Association has proudly released the short video “Downstream: A Simple Story about the Need for Water Reuse Technology for a Sustainable Future.” CH2M HILL’s Linda Macpherson and Dr. Shane Snyder of the University of Arizona were co-principal investigators on the WateReuse Research Foundation research project and supported the development of the resulting “Downstream” video as a companion to their research. Others serving on the research team include Dr. George Tchobanoglous, Ian Law, Dr. Steven Johnson, Dr. Paul Slovic, Dr. Jorg Drewes and Emily Callaway, a researcher from CH2M HILL.
“Public acceptance is a key issue that needs to be addressed in order for water reuse to become a mainstay strategy for sustainable water supply,” said Macpherson, CH2M HILL Vice President and Reuse Principal Technologist. “Many reuse projects have been met with vocal public opposition that stops a project from being implemented. The best way to overcome such opposition is to provide an open, transparent and holistic understanding of the urban water cycles of use and reuse, and ‘Downstream’ is a vivid and open way to do so. It illustrates that where water is concerned, it is quality of treatment, and not the history of prior use, that is most important.”
The video puts into perspective that there is much most of us do not realize about the current use and reuse of water, and that when this information is provided the public can get over the concerns that have been manifest when the journey to understanding begins with words like “treated wastewater.” In seven minutes the video shows that in the world of water, we are all downstream. The majority of the world’s population drinks from rivers and streams that contain treated wastewater. So even though drinking reuse water seems foreign and off putting for some, it is nothing new – we’ve been doing it for centuries and there is waste from all manner of animals and humans in upstream waters that must be treated before the water becomes safe to drink. Research showed that many are unaware that the high levels of public health in the developed parts of the world are dependent upon effective water treatment. Today treatment technologies are available and in use that can reliably produce extraordinarily high-quality drinking water from sources that contain treated effluent—and do so better and faster than Mother Nature. Reused water can be made to be the safest water on the planet.
When this information is presented to the public clearly, transparently, and without stigmatizing images, the WateReuse Research Foundation research has shown that the public views water reuse as the smart, commonplace and sustainable strategy that it is. The concept of water reuse was easily embraced in research settings conducted in the United States and Australia. In a very short time, a majority of research respondents accepted even the most innovative drinking water reuse options. It’s time to “get real” with the public. This recent research from the WateReuse Research Foundation has shown that we can “get over it.” “Downstream” is a great companion to some of the documentaries that have been released about water scarcity and the off-putting thought of drinking water that has been through a wastewater treatment plant. The WateReuse Research Foundation has shown through research that the public can get past the stigma.
The WateReuse Research Foundation is an educational, nonprofit public benefit corporation that serves as a centralized organization for the water and wastewater community to advance the science of water reuse, recycling, reclamation, and desalination. The Foundation's research covers a broad spectrum of issues, including chemical contaminants, microbiological agents, treatment technologies, salinity management, public perception, economics, and marketing. The mission of the WateReuse Research Foundation is to conduct and promote applied research on the reclamation, recycling, reuse, and desalination of water.
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