Water Resources Management

, Volume 32, Issue 2, pp 511–525 | Cite as

Of Dreamliners and Drinking Water: Developing Risk Regulation and a Safety Culture for Direct Potable Reuse

  • Christian Binz
  • Noosha Bronte Razavian
  • Michael KiparskyEmail author


Direct potable water reuse (DPR), the injection of highly purified wastewater into drinking water systems, is among the newest, and most controversial, methods for augmenting water supplies. DPR is garnering increasing interest, but does not come without risks. This paper examines the notion that emerging regulation of DPR may lack sufficient attention to a particular class of risks: catastrophic risks with low probabilities of occurrence, but high consequences. It may be instructive for proponents of DPR that such consequences have materialized in other industries, with damage to human welfare and to the industries themselves. We develop brief histories of risk regulation from the aviation, offshore oil, and nuclear industries, drawing out relevant lessons for the emerging DPR field. We argue that proponents of DPR could benefit from proactively developing a safety culture in DPR utilities and establishing an effective industry-wide auditing organization that investigates unanticipated system failures. Developing independent oversight for DPR operation could ensure that stringent quality and management requirements are set and enforced, and that any system failures or “near misses” are investigated and adequately responded to.


Water reuse Water recycling Safety culture Wastewater Water treatment Drinking water Urban water Innovation 



We thank Sasha Harris-Lovett and David Sedlak for useful conceptual discussions. John Bowie provided useful research assistance. We are grateful for funding from Eawag (C.B), the Swiss National Science Foundation (Early Postdoc Mobility Grant P2BEP1_155474 to C.B.), and from NSF Grant 28139880-50542-C to the ReNUWIt Engineering Research Center.


  1. Allianz (2014) Global Aviation Safety Study. Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty SE, MunichGoogle Scholar
  2. Angers, S (2009) Safety in numbers - industry team recognized for improving aviation safety. Accessed 19 July 2017
  3. BEA (2012) Final Report on the Accident on 1st June 2009 to the Airbus A330–203 Registered F-GZCP Operated by Air France Flight AF 447 Rio De Janeiro - Paris. BEA - Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses pour la sécurité de l'aviation civile, Le Bourget, CedexGoogle Scholar
  4. Behm, D (2013) Milwaukee marks 20 years since cryptosporidium outbreak. Accessed 08 August 2017
  5. Bolong N, Ismail A, Salim MR, Matsuura T (2009) A Review of the Effects of Emerging Contaminants in Wastewater and Options for their Removal. Desalination 239(1):229–246CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. BSEE (2013). Safety Culture Policy Statement. U.S. Department of the Interior, 76 FR 34773Google Scholar
  7. BSEE (2016) Budget justifications and performance information fiscal year 2017. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement Accessed 08 August 2017
  8. Camerer CF, Kunreuther H (1989) Decision Processes for Low Probability Events: Policy Implications. J Policy Anal Manage 8(4):565–592CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. CAST (2017) The commercial aviation safety team. CAST website Accessed 15 July 2017
  10. Cox S, Cox T (1991) The Structure of Employee Attitudes to Safety: A European Example. Work Stress 5(2):93–106CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Crook J (2010) Regulatory Aspects of Direct Potable Reuse in California. National Water Research Institute, Fountain ValleyGoogle Scholar
  12. CSB (2016) Investigation report, executive summary, 04/12/2016 drilling rig explosion and fire at the macondo well. U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, Report No. 2010–10-I-OS Accessed 08 August 2017
  13. DHSG (2011) Final report on the investigation of the macondo well blowout. Deepwater Horizon Study Group, UC Berkeley CA Accessed 08 August 2017Google Scholar
  14. Dowd A, Boughen N, Ashworth P, Carr-Cornish S (2011) Geothermal Technology in Australia: Investigating Social Acceptance. Energ Policy 39(10):6301–6307. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Elahi S (2011) Here be dragons… exploring the ‘unknown unknowns. Futures 43(2):196–201CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. FAA (2010) U.S. general aviation accidents, fatalities, and rates — 1938–2010. Federal Aviation Administration, FAA U.S. Civil Airmen Statistics Accessed 08 August 2017
  17. Gerrity D, Pecson B, Shane Trussell R, Rhodes Trussell R (2013) Potable Reuse Treatment Trains Throughout the World. J Water Supply Res Technol 62(6):321–338CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Guldenmund FW (2000) The Nature of Safety Culture: A Review of Theory and Research. Saf Sci 34(1):215–257CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Harris-Lovett, S, Sedlak, D (2015) The History of Water Reuse in California. In: Sustainable Water - Challenges and Solutions from California, Allison Lassiter (ed) University of California Press, Oakland, pp 220–243Google Scholar
  20. Harris-Lovett S, Binz C, Sedlak D, Kiparsky M, Truffer B (2015) Beyond User Acceptance: A Legitimacy Framework for Potable Water Reuse in California. Environ Sci Technol 49(13):7552–7561CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Kahn ME (2007) Environmental Disasters as Risk Regulation Catalysts? the Role of Bhopal, Chernobyl, Exxon Valdez, Love Canal, and Three Mile Island in Shaping US Environmental Law. J Risk Uncertain 35(1):17–43CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Kahneman D, Tversky A (1979) Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision Under Risk. Econometrica 47(2):263–291CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Kaplan S, Garrick BJ (1981) On the Quantitative Definition of Risk. Risk Anal 1(1):11–27CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Kemeny, JG (1979) Report of the President's Commission on the Accident at Three Mile Islands. U.S. Government Printing Office 1979, Washington D.C.Google Scholar
  25. Kiparsky, M, Owen, D, Nylen, NG, Cosens, B, Doremus, H, Fisher, A, Christian-Smith, J, Milman, A (2016) Designing Effective Groundwater Sustainability Agencies: Criteria for Evaluation of Local Governance Options. University of California at Berkeley, Center for Law, Energy & the Environment, BerkeleyGoogle Scholar
  26. Lach D, Bolton P, Durbin N, Harty R (1994) Lessons Learned from the Three Mile Island Unit 2 Advisory Panel. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Washington, DCCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Laporte TR, Consolini PM (1991) Working in Practice but Not in Theory: Theoretical Challenges of "High-Reliability Organizations". J Public Adm Res Theory 1(1):19–48Google Scholar
  28. Leverenz HL, Tchobanoglous G, Asano T (2011) Direct Potable Reuse: A Future Imperative. Journal of Water Reuse and. Desalination 1(1):2–10Google Scholar
  29. Leveson N (2004) A New Accident Model for Engineering Safer Systems. Saf Sci 42(4):237–270CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Luxhoj, JT, Coit, DW (2006) Modeling Low Probability/High Consequence Events: An Aviation Safety Risk Model. Annual Reliability and Maintainability Symposium, 2006, IEEE, pp 215–221Google Scholar
  31. Mac Kenzie WR, Hoxie NJ, Proctor ME, Gradus MS, Blair KA et al (1994) A Massive Outbreak in Milwaukee of Cryptosporidium Infection Transmitted through the Public Water Supply. N Engl J Med 331(3):161–167. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Mahajan R (2010) Critical Incident Reporting and Learning. Br J Anaesth 105(1):69–75CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. March JG, Shapira Z (1987) Managerial Perspectives on Risk and Risk Taking. Manag Sci 33(11):1404–1418CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. McClelland GH, Schulze WD, Hurd B (1990) The Effect of Risk Beliefs on Property Values: A Case Study of a Hazardous Waste Site. Risk Anal 10(4):485–497CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Meshkati, N, Tabibzadeh, M, Ashayei, C (2015) Lessons (un)learned in the last 5 years in offshore oil industry since the BP Deepwater Horizon accident. The Huffington Post Accessed 08 August 2017
  36. National Commission (2011) Deep water - the Gulf oil disaster and the future of offshore drilling. National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling Accessed 08 August 2017
  37. National Research Council (2012) Water Reuse: Potential for Expanding the Nation's Water Supply through Reuse of Municipal Wastewater. The National Academics Press, Washington D.CGoogle Scholar
  38. NRC (2015) Reactor Operator Licensing - Background. United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission Office of Public Affairs, Washington D.CGoogle Scholar
  39. NWRI (2013) Examining the Criteria for Direct Potable Reuse. WateReuse Research Foundation, Fountain ValleyGoogle Scholar
  40. OECD (2014) The Characteristics of an Effective Nuclear Regulator. OECD Nuclear Energy Agency, NEA, No. 7185, Issy-les-Moulineaux, FranceGoogle Scholar
  41. Ormerod KJ (2016) Illuminating Elimination: Public Perception and the Production of Potable Water Reuse. Wiley Interdiscip Rev Water 3(4):537–547CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Parsons VS (2007) Searching for “unknown unknowns”. Eng Manag J 19(1):43–46CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Pawson R, Wong G, Owen L (2011) Known Knowns, Known Unknowns, Unknown Unknowns: The Predicament of Evidence-Based Policy. Am J Eval 32(4):518–546CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Pham JC, Kim GR, Natterman JP, Cover RM, Goeschel CA et al (2010) ReCASTing the RCA: An Improved Model for Performing Root Cause Analyses. Am J Med Qual 25(3):186–191CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Pidgeon N, O'Leary M (2000) Man-made Disasters: Why Technology and Organizations (Sometimes) Fail. Saf Sci 34(1–3):15–30. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Pronovost PJ, Goeschel CA, Olsen KL, Pham JC, Miller MR et al (2009) Reducing Health Care Hazards: Lessons from the Commercial Aviation Safety Team. Health Aff 28(3):479–489. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Ray, JR (2014) Offshore Safety and Environmental Regimes: A Post-Macando Comparative Analysis of the United States and the United Kingdom. 33 Mississippi College Law Review, 11.
  48. Reason J (2000) Human Error: Models and Management. Br Med J 320(7237):768–770CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Rees JV (2009) Hostages of Each Other: The Transformation of Nuclear Safety Since Three Mile Island. University of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  50. Rice J, Wutich A, Westerhoff P (2013) Assessment of De Facto Wastewater Reuse Across the US: Trends between 1980 and 2008. Environ Sci Technol 47(19):11099–11105CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Roughton J, Mercurio J (2002) Develpoing an Effective Safety Culture. Butterworth-Heinemann, WoburnGoogle Scholar
  52. Sexton KA (2015) Crisis, Criticism, Change: Regulatory Reform in the Wake of Nuclear Accidents. Nucl Law Bull 2:35–62Google Scholar
  53. SDWA (Safe Drinking Water Act) 42 U.S.C. § 300j–4 (a) (2) (1974)Google Scholar
  54. Slovic P (1987) Perception of Risk. Science 2336(4799):280–285CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. SWRCB (2016) Investigation on the feasibility of developing uniform water recycling criteria for direct potable reuse - report to the legislature september 2016 - public review draft. State Water Resource Board, State of California Accessed 08 August 2017
  56. Taleb, NN. (2007) The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, 1st edn. The Random House Publishing Group, USAGoogle Scholar
  57. Tchobanoglous H, Leverenz H, Nellor M, Crook J (2011) Direct Potable Reuse - A Path Forward. WatReuse Research Foundation, AlexandriaGoogle Scholar
  58. Theriot, S (2014) Changing Direction: How Regulatory Agencies have Responded to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. LSU J Energy L Res Currents, 19Google Scholar
  59. US EPA (2004) Understanding the safe drinking water act. US EPA, Office of Water, EPA 816-F-04-030 Accessed 08 August 2017
  60. Waller, R, and Covello, VT (1984) Low-Probability High-Consequence Risk Analysis: Issues, Methods, and Case Studies, Springer Science and Business New Media, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  61. WateReuse Association (2014) California Direct Potable Reuse Initiative - Reporting on our Progress. WateReuse Association, AlexandriaGoogle Scholar
  62. WateReuse Association (2015) Framework for Direct Potable Reuse. WateReuse Research Foundation, AlexandriaGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Eawag: Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and TechnologyDubendorfSwitzerland
  2. 2.Wheeler Water InstituteUC Berkeley School of LawBerkeleyUSA
  3. 3.NSF Engineering Research Center for Re-Inventing the Nation’s Urban Water Infrastructure (ReNUWIt)BerkeleyUSA

Personalised recommendations