Cross-Cultural Knowledge of Wastewater Treatment and Reuse

Sunday, 15 February 2015
Exhibit Hall (San Jose Convention Center)
Margaret V. du Bray, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ
Treated wastewater represents an under-utilized resource that may serve to alleviate concerns about water scarcity. Public perceptions of wastewater, however, are hindrances to the re-use of treated wastewater, and as a result, it is used very infrequently as an additional source of potable water. Understanding the knowledge and perceptions of wastewater treatment held by people in different international locations may help to develop tools to sway opinions about treated wastewater re-use, and therefore may help restructure wastewater use to ameliorate water scarcity concerns. Study abroad students conducted interviews and collected data in Spain, Guatemala, New Zealand, and Fiji as a part of Arizona State University’s 2013 Global Ethnohydrology Study. They asked respondents to draw pictures of the wastewater treatment procedures and subsequent re-use, if they were aware of any re-use being practiced. Additionally, students asked respondents to list the specific steps of wastewater treatment in their communities. Using these drawings, we developed a codebook and used text analysis to analyze perceptions of wastewater treatment. We coded the drawings for the source of the wastewater, the type of wastewater treatment used, and the various levels of wastewater treatment (ie, the extent to which wastewater was treated before being released). The drawings collected in these four countries suggest that, in peoples’ perceptions, wastewater re-use is uncommon, and that most wastewater goes back into the environment after undergoing varying levels of treatment. The results of this study contribute to the growing literature on sustainable water resource management, and may help to develop a better understanding of how to overcome social hindrances toward reclamation of treated wastewater for the potable water supply.