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Community education and perceptions of water reuse: a case study in Norman, Oklahoma

Abstract

The success of municipal wastewater reuse programs is often dependent on public willingness to use recycled water. Psychological reactions that contribute to behavioral intention have varying levels of influence, with the reaction of disgust or “yuck factor” creating the primary behavioral barrier. Factors influencing disgust reactions to recycled wastewater are of interest to psychologists and water managers alike. Research has shown that community education initiatives can increase willingness to support water reuse projects. A two-part study was carried out with a total of 114 participants in Norman, Oklahoma, where the local government is interested in implementing wastewater reuse to supplement water supply during drought. Participants were asked about their willingness to use this water and their feelings of disgust, as well as their trust of public officials before and after touring the Norman Water Reclamation Facility. Results found that willingness and disgust are inversely related. Political affiliation, education, and previous knowledge of the program had significant effects on willingness to use recycled wastewater. Community education significantly increased willingness to use that water and to support an eventual ballot initiative to expand indirect potable reuse. These results suggest community education can overcome initial reactions of disgust that contribute to behavioral intention.

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Data availability

All data and data dictionaries are available at https://osf.io/2ne3s/. All study materials are available at https://osf.io/2ne3s/.

Code availability

Data analysis was carried out using R and R studio standard software packages. Code files are available at https://osf.io/2ne3s/.

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Acknowledgements

This study evolved from a general survey of public perceptions to a collaboration with Norman city officials, who fully supported and encouraged this project by providing transparent and understandable education on water treatment and by promoting my community tours. Many thanks to City of Norman Mayor Breea Clark, as well as, Ryan Bart, Ken Komiske, and Steve Hardeman for their help. I would also like to thank Gabrielle Bittner and Brooke Foster for their help in designing and carrying out this research. It is our hope that this research will encourage city officials to expand community education in Norman and inform other municipalities that water reuse is achievable when education and public reactions are prioritized.

Funding

This research was partly funded by the Oklahoma NASA Workforce Development Grant, which provided funding for 8 weeks. This research was supported by the Department of Geography and Environmental Sustainability at the University of Oklahoma.

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Correspondence to Madeline Wade.

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The University of Oklahoma IRB submission # 10957

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Wade, M., Peppler, R. & Person, A. Community education and perceptions of water reuse: a case study in Norman, Oklahoma. J Environ Stud Sci 11, 266–273 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13412-021-00667-4

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Keywords

  • Water
  • Reuse
  • Disgust
  • Trust
  • Environmental psychology