The fact that water scarcity has continued to intensify at the dawn of each day has continued to demand that people have to commit their efforts in managing the available water sources while treating any available wastewater to supplement these sources. A study carried out by Ormerod and Scott (354) showed that daily water demands continue to increase as the water supply becomes scarce while water from various sources becomes undrinkable. Water wastage has thus continued to gain significance as forecasts continue to indicate that a day will come when the world will not have enough water to use as well as to waste. This has thus seen various institutions coming up with strategies on how they can save gallons of water that are being wasted on a day-to-day basis by hospitals, factories, domestic users, and industries. While water containing harmful substances like soap, chemical compounds, nitrogen, and oil among other substances cannot be used for any constructive purpose, public, as well as private entities, have thought of diverse ways to purify polluted water in order to make it safe for drinking among other domestic and commercial uses (Ormerod and Scott 355).
Wastewater treatment can be defined as the process of eliminating any undesirable substances as well as contaminants so as to make water fit for a particular purpose. Although most water is usually treated for human waste, it can as well be disinfected for a wide range of purposes that can include meeting particular necessities for medical, industrial, domestic, and scientific use. This paper intends to establish the various perceptions that individuals have in relation to wastewater treatment in order to come up with the most suitable strategy for stakeholder engagement. The paper will mainly look at the various community views that can influence acceptance for treated wastewater, the various factors influencing these views, implications resulting from these views, and the most effective strategies that can be adopted to enhance stakeholder engagement.
Wastewater treatment does not merely refer to the process of disinfecting water from the sewage system but it as well refers to the process of treating water from home, industrial, medical and commercial institutions that go down the drains as well as that which gets into the sewage system. Wastewater can include water from domestic use that ranges from showers, sinks, laundries, toilets, and dishwashers. Conversely, small and large industries, as well as storm, drains contribute to huge amounts of wastewater that ultimately collect in sewage water systems. The average contribution of the overall amount of wastewater on a day-to-day basis has contributed to a significantly high degree of water crisis around the world. Australia has particularly been ranked among the key regions that have continued to experience severe water crises as major sources of water supplying major Australian cities continue to dwindle (Hurlimann and Dolnicar 287).
This has seen an array of solutions that range from recycling, desalination, use of greywater, and water conservation among other water management strategies being proposed to address the situation. While an array of solutions to water crisis management have continued to raise questions related to the safety of the reclaimed water for drinking, the Australian government has established its first Metropolitan Water Plan intended to introduce an appropriate course of action relating to the treatment of wastewater. The government has thus established Sydney Metropolitan Water Plan to ensure that a sustainable supply of a secure water system is available for the greater Sydney population. For a long period of time, a huge Australian population relied on the raw water supply from eleven major dams in Sydney. There is however an increasing rate at which rainfall over the natural Sydney’s catchments has continued to vary and as the impact of climatic change continues to intensify, water inflow into these dams has continued to become unpredictable.
In order to satisfy the potentially high demands that are bound to emanate from future population growth, the Australian government has come up with a flexible strategy that can help to control Sydney’s water system so as to meet the region’s water supply needs within the context of uneven inflows, rapidly growing population and future uncertainties that might result from rapidly changing climatic patterns. The Sydney Metropolitan Water plan is thus a detailed plan that was established in 2004 and updated in 2006 (Hurlimann and Dolnicar 288). It reflects the Australian government’s long-term arrangement to safeguard Sydney’s water availability while responding to the deepening demands. The plan mainly ensures a thorough integration of various measures that can ensure that Sydney will have sufficient water supply to meet the increasing growth needs while on the other hand securing various drought needs that might extend to 2015 and beyond.
Such measures include intensive water reclamation and efficiency, timely desalination and underground water extraction, and the development of suitable strategies to access and extract water from deep storage systems. The plan also integrates an adaptive water management strategy that recommends constant reviews that would regularly take into consideration new information and technology. According to Hurlimann and Dolnicar (289) the Australian government has equally taken into consideration the integration of key stakeholders into the Sydney Metropolitan Water plan. This has thus enhanced the dire need to understand the various views that could influence the community’s decisions to accept or not to accept using reclaimed water for domestic purposes that include drinking.
Community views relating to reclaimed water
Although the Australian government has put into consideration the need to integrate a wide range of stakeholders into the decision-making process relating to Sydney Metropolitan Water Plan, various factors can influence stakeholders’ perceptions regarding reclaimed water, which can ultimately influence the progress of the water project. While the community constitutes the critical component of stakeholders that ought to be involved in this project, understanding their perceptions with regards to reclaimed water is important as this can influence their ability to accept or not to accept reclaimed water for drinking. As explained by Hurlimann and Dolnicar (290), various factors that can either be socio-demographic or psychographic have been perceived to influence the likelihood of community members to use reclaimed water for drinking.
Although these factors can only be included in this analysis simultaneously, they can either trigger positive or negative perceptions relating to reclaimed wastewater, and this can in return influence the likelihood to use or not to use reclaimed water. Among the various factors that influence community perceptions on the reclaimed water include:
Public support for prevailing re-use water schemes
Previous public support for any existing re-use water schemes can influence the public acceptance of reclaimed water. A study carried out by Ormerod and Scott (359) showed that most individuals within any given community can accept to use reclaimed water depending on whether members of the larger society support the prevailing re-use water schemes. Ormerod and Scott (360) found out that individuals can only accept to use reclaimed water for purposes that do not involve direct consumption if the larger community does not advocate that water from the existing schemes can be used for drinking. This thus indicates that a huge number of people in Sydney can reject the idea of substituting reclaimed water into the existing potable water system since more than 50% of individuals living in this region have proven to oppose the issue of drinking recycled water.
While public consultation plays an important role in creating awareness relating to the prevailing projects within the community, most researchers have advocated the fact that public involvement is critical in promoting trust that can enhance the easy acceptance of using reclaimed water. As explained by Hurlimann and Dolnicar (292), the transformation of the public perception to enhance acceptance of reclaimed water can easily be achieved if government authorities are able to work hand in hand with communities during the consultation process as this can easily help to earn their trust. This is particularly because community members can be able to play a part in establishing reliable risk management strategies to ensure that the safety of the recycled water is enhanced. This thus explains that lack of public consultation while established a water recycling project can hinder the community acceptance to use reclaimed water for drinking.
Perceived health risks
Perceived health risks related to drinking treated water equally influences the public acceptance to supplement their daily demands that include drinking with reclaimed water. As explained by Hurlimann and Dolnicar (293), the existence of controversial technologies exhibits a significant distinction in perceived health risks expressed by technological experts on one hand and members of the general public on the other. Various critics have indicated that an array of proposed community schemes usually employ graphic depictions relating to “gender-bending” attributes of different hormones contained in water to express their concerns on the acceptance by community members to use reclaimed water. Research conducted by Ormerod and Scott (362) however indicated that most members of any interested public evaluate risk factors relating to the use of reclaimed water depending on whether they have an opportunity to manage their risk exposure, whether they trust the involved organization as well as whether the perceived risk is strange of familiar. This indicates that the public can reject using reclaimed water that has been proposed in Sydney Metropolitan Water Project if they perceive certain health risks as being linked to using recycled water for drinking.
The degree of trust in involved authorities
While it is obvious that trust in different organizations may vary, the community may be reluctant to use reclaimed water if they do not trust the involved institutions as well as the water scheme itself. Conversely, the community can accept to use reclaimed water for drinking if the involved institution or a third-party organization has earned a high level of public trust. This indicates that community members that might be interested in the Sydney Metropolitan Water Project will be able to use the reclaimed water for drinking if they have developed trust in the involved institutions. The utilization of third parties’ involvement should thus be considered in order to enhance a high degree of community trust and the subsequent acceptance to use reclaimed water for various domestic uses. This is because involving third-party organizations that can include autonomous advisory boards is among the most effective methods that can be used to demonstrate some sense of accountability thereby assuring people that the process involved in reclaiming wastewater is open and transparent (Ormerod and Scott 364).
The “yuck factor”
A common element that has been established by most scholars as they seek to understand factors influencing the acceptance of using recycled water for drinking is the disgusting thought of drinking water that might be contaminated with human waste. A study carried out by Ormerod and Scott (366), showed that there is a direct relationship prevailing between the “disgust sensitivity” that individuals might have and the opposition to use reclaimed water for various domestic purposes. Language has particularly been perceived to play a significant role in perpetuating the impact of the “yuck factor” as undesirable slogans like “Toilet to Tap” can be used to rally critics against using reclaimed water. It is obvious that the natural reaction that can arise from such “disgust sensitivity” is the desire to shift away from the various circumstances associated with the emotion-laden slogans. While this is directly linked to the opposition by members of the public to use reclaimed water for drinking, the attempt to shift language by using new terms may not always work.
Addressing the impact of disgust sensitivity to promote acceptance of using reclaimed water can thus be achieved by admitting to the fact that the “yuck factor” prevails and that it can only be addressed by establishing the right communication process (Ormerod and Scott 367). This is because establishing the right communication process can promote positive factors that range from responsiveness, participatory project supervision, and trust, which influences the way people react to different situations that might require them to use recycled water. This would thus ensure that the “yuck factor” does not prevail to prevent people from accepting to use reclaimed water. Involved parties can thus ensure that useful information can be circulating through reliable information processes to enhance quality understanding of important factors that can drive acceptance to use reclaimed water.
Implications and possible reactions relating to the use of reclaimed water for drinking in Sydney
Water continues to become a fundamental aspect of life, economic growth, and environmental stability. Although the Australian water supply system has been of good quality, recent catastrophes have continued to expose the freshwater supply to severe drought emanating from constant climate change. While there is a growing emphasis on water conservation intended to reduce the level of vulnerability prevailing in Australia in general and Sydney in particular, the use of reclaimed water has significantly become common. This is particularly because the growing pressure emanating from constant climate change has continued to demand alternative water sources to address the emerging water-related issues. An agreement documented through the Australian Water Reform Agenda demanded that public consultation has to be adopted by government agencies when establishing new initiatives intended to exploit available water resources (Ormerod and Scott 369).
The Australian Drinking Water Guidelines further demands that interested communities have the right to participate in the formulation of all policies related to the management of their water supplies. The guidelines further explain how other stakeholders including customers can be involved in the consideration of viable options that can enhance acceptable monitoring and the subsequent reporting on the progress of their water supply. Although Sydney Metropolitan Water has been in place since 2004, the Australian government has only thought of involving the public as from 2010. This indicates the fact that the public has not been involved in any policy-making process, and this can attribute to the rejection of using reclaimed water for various domestic purposes (Ormerod and Scott 370).
There has been a rapid increase in the commercialization and corporatization of a wide range of Australian Urban water organizations. This has led to the responsibilities of managing Australian water resources to be vested in the hands of commercial entities rather than directly being managed by a particular section of government. This has significantly reduced public trust as the role of various board members to provide relevant skills that can help the community members to manage various risks while buffering any possible political interference continues to dwindle. The local government has however taken initiative in providing water services to a huge population in Sydney. This is bound to significantly intensify public trust especially because similar activities are being carried out in other Australian states and territories (Ormerod and Scott 372). New South Wales and Queensland have for example utilized the services offered by the municipal council in supplying portable water that covers a huge portion of each state. Other states like Victoria and South Australia have adopted state-level utilities that manage bulk water supply as well as the retail distribution that is usually intended to reach an array of community members. This development is important in promoting the use of reclaimed water for drinking in Sydney as community members may not only develop trust with the involved third parties but they will as well support the water re-use schemes just as other surrounding states might have done.
Community engagement strategy
Community engagement in a wastewater treatment project is paramount as it enhances the implementation of a well-organized water supply scheme that does not only meets the prevailing water demands but it as well meets the various perceptions held by members of the public. Among the core objectives governing the need to establish an effective community engagement strategy can range from the need to promote the flow of information that can be used to equip members of the concerned public with relevant skills. Stakeholder engagement can as well be triggered by the dire need to create an opportunity for community members to take responsibility for their own health through taking part in addressing various water-related risks. This can as well increase stakeholders’ participation in the decision-making process as they are able to perceive the decision-making process as fair and transparent. Stakeholder engagement would as well reduce possible objections to the project by fostering a sense of ownership among the local stakeholders. In the long run, systematic engagement of the local community in the wastewater reclamation project can as well enable the public to understand various environmental issues, which helps them to render more sustainable outcomes. Although the Australian government has not been able to involve community members during the initial stages of the Sydney Metropolitan Water Project, involving them in the remaining stages will ensure that desirable perceptions are obtained thereby ensuring that the growing demands have continued to be exalted on water supply systems are met.
In order to ensure that the set objectives are effectively met, interested parties that would integrate their efforts towards positive outcomes at Sydney Metropolitan Water Project should be identified. The stakeholders may particularly involve representatives from the local community, local government authorities, private and non-governmental institutions (NGOs) that might be operating within Sydney. Decision-makers, as well as the representatives from the ministries of water, should as well be engaged. Once the stakeholders have been identified, Sydney’s government should put into consideration the various perceptions and expectations that various stakeholders have. This would ensure that an effective strategy for engagement is formulated as their level of interest and possible influence would significantly be considered. The government would thus ensure that different stakeholders are involved in various project management stages through consulting, informing, and well as collaborating with interested parties.
The proposed stakeholder engagement strategy that will be adopted at Sydney Metropolitan Water Project intends to equip interested parties with as much information as possible while involving them at every stage of decision making and policy formulation. The government equally intends to share relevant knowledge in order to promote good practices that would benefit the interests of all people. While it is however obvious that different people might have varying interests that might trigger conflict, in the long run, the government will seek to narrow down the level of engagement of various stakeholders in order to limit the possibility of conflicting interests from different parties. Among the specific stages during which stakeholders will be engaged include the stage of project inception, as this will enable project managers to buy in the idea of how the project ought to be managed while enabling the public to understand the importance of supporting the project. Honest dialogues will as well be held so as to create an opportunity for stakeholders to openly share their views while demonstrating to them how various decisions have been carried out. Open forums and workshops for various stakeholders will as well be important as these will ensure that suitable ideas are generated and shared with the community at large.
The Sydney Metropolitan Water Project is crucial in ensuring that sustainable water supply is obtained to help curb the various threats that have continued to face various parts of Australia particularly due to constant climate change experienced in the recent past. While the available water supply has continued to dwindle especially due to constant drought, the Australian government has continued to propose various approaches through which the available water sources can be supplemented. Various factors may however influence the community views thereby promoting or inhibiting the acceptance of using reclaimed wastewater for drinking. Among the various factors that may influence the community’s perception regarding reclaimed wastewater to include the yuck factor, degree of trust in involved authorities, public consultation, public support for existing re-use schemes, and perceived health risks.