Drinking Wastewater: Public Trust in Potable Reuse

Kerri Jean Ormerod, Christopher A. Scott

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

105 Scopus citations


In the coming decades, highly treated wastewater, known as reclaimed water, is slated to be a major element of municipal water supplies. In particular, planners propose supplementing drinking water with reclaimed water as a sustainable solution to the growing challenge of urban water scarcity. Public opposition is currently considered the primary barrier to implementing successful potable water reuse projects; nonetheless, public responses to reclaimed water are not well understood. Based on a survey of over 250 residents of Tucson, Arizona, this article assesses the relationship between trust in the professional institutions responsible for municipal water development and willingness to drink reclaimed water. Results demonstrate that public acceptance of potable reuse is contingent on trust in the authorities who influence design of sociotechnical systems for water supply and reuse-including water and wastewater utilities, regulators, consultants, academics, and elected local officials. Findings emphasize the highly interdependent social and political factors that inform personal decisions to support or reject potable reuse. The authors suggest that achieving greater acceptance of potable reuse will require bringing local and regional water policy in line with public values, as well as finding ways to incorporate these values into the planning process.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)351-373
Number of pages23
JournalScience Technology and Human Values
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Anthropology
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Philosophy
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Human-Computer Interaction


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