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Public attitudes toward urban water sustainability transitions: a multi-city survey in the western United States

Abstract

This article presents an integrated theoretical model, drawing from sustainability transition research and attitude theory, to explain public perceptions of urban water sustainability transitions and public support for transformational water-management strategies. We test the model with empirical data from a random-sample residential survey in three cities in the western United States dependent on Colorado River water: Phoenix, Arizona, Denver, Colorado, and Las Vegas, Nevada. As one of the most heavily managed and over-allocated transboundary river systems in the world, sustainable water management of the Colorado River is critical to the future of the region. Cities face increasing pressure on water resources as population, development, and uncertainty about the future increase. While a growing number of scholars focus on sustainability transitions, a few studies focus explicitly on the role of the public as fundamental actors. This is despite the acknowledgement that public support may constrain or enable transitions and that major societal changes will affect the public in numerous and critical ways. We hypothesize that environmental orientation, procedural knowledge, perceived personal responsibility, trust in government, and socio-economic resources predict public perceptions of the need for transitions and public support for transformational water-management strategies. We use ANOVA to identify differences between cities, and confirmatory factor analysis and structural equation modeling to evaluate the conceptual model. Results provide partial support for the hypothesized model and the findings replicate across cities. The findings suggest several policy implications for basin-wide and city-scale water management in the Colorado River basin.

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Acknowledgements

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant no. SES-1462086.

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White, D.D., Rauh, E.K., Sullivan, A. et al. Public attitudes toward urban water sustainability transitions: a multi-city survey in the western United States. Sustain Sci 14, 1469–1483 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11625-019-00658-z

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Keywords

  • Attitude theory
  • Climate change
  • Colorado River
  • Water resource management
  • Transformations