The sustainability of the water resources in the world requires a systematic effort that will ensure beliefs and socio-cultural practices, including perception around water are sufficiently addressed. The effects of climate change and the increase in population indexes bear the strain of the natural sources of fresh water. This leaves Australia with an increasing demand for water that cannot be met by the supply received from the natural sources. The need to use technology in water recycling comes in handy to manage water deficiencies in Australia. However, municipal wastewater recycling and desalination of seawater is a costly program. The acceptance of desalinated and recycled water has been a serious challenge in the entire world. Negative perceptions have characterized the processing system involved in recycling water with a few buying the ideology of qualifying recycled and desalinated water as safe or healthy. However, recent studies have provided an alternate spectrum and change in community perception on these sources of water. Conversely, the perceptions around recycled water for purposes of drinking and other domestic uses are significantly improving among the Australian population. Those who have generally accepted the use of recycled water have done so temporarily and for strict purposes of use classified as non-human, including firefighting, toilet flushing or irrigation of parks among other similar activities.
The Impact of Climate Change on Water Sources in Australia
Australia is the driest inhabited continent in the entire world. The country is currently experiencing the worst form of drought recorded in its history. This has been characterized by disappearing rivers, and empty dams as farmers bear the worst part of the catastrophe that has seen livestock perish as the field grow barren. Australia has experienced some wildfires that have destroyed several millions of acres of land. Water scarcity in Australia brings out the needs for the exploitations of other scientific methods to facilitate the acquisition of fresh and sustainable water sources for the development of almost all the sectors of the Australian economy. Scientific models can convert other non-utilized water resources and make them available for both the domestic and commercial use in order to mitigate on the looming crisis that is already fast approaching unprecedented levels.
Accordingly, technology and innovations in the water sector must take the first-hand position to implement findings and propel emergent technologies in the water sector to save the continent from the impending water crisis, especially in the food and agricultural sectors of the economy (Winslow et al., 2004). Even though the water scarcity is a global problem, the water crisis on the continent of Australia is a phenomenon that calls for urgent interventions. Sydney as a city in Australia holding a huge population of people implements a metropolitan water plan that seeks to leverage on the global impact of water scarcity. Reliable and affordable water is a requisite expectation of every citizen within Australia. Therefore, the report reviews the perceptions and extent of knowledge held based on the two sources of water to construct the acceptance levels and further help in the future planning system of water sources in Australia in order to provide a more agreeable community acceptance position on the uses of the two water sources.
The Metropolitan Water Plan
The metropolitan water plan emerges as a progressive policy that facilitates the accessibility of sustainable fresh and healthy water for domestic, industrial, and agricultural use. Siegel (2014) explains that considering the fast depleting natural freshwater sources in Australia, with its large cities like Sydney likely to bear higher effects, it is necessary to exploit other alternative sources of water and include them into the water user’s network. Australia already operates a Municipal water recycling programme and the desalination of the sea water for use. The broader goal of the plan is premised on the purpose of ensuring sufficient water supply that meets the primary and secondary needs of the people comprehensively as it equally sorts out the agricultural expectations from the global perspective. The need to install a water supply system that is resilient to stress or shocks for the global environmental challenges is one empirical objective that should the handled by the Sydney water plans under the metropolitan water approaches. Even though Sydney has safe and secure systems, water availability implementation plan creates an elaborate measure and strategies to cover the next 50 years. The plan is likely to be determined by the support of the people who are the main beneficiaries. The successful rollout of the plan, therefore, must take into consideration the citizens’ views, their social-cultural beliefs around water, and the water sector innovation practices as well as the water sector emergent issues.
Metropolitan Water Plan 2010 was developed as a progressive water plan aimed at ensuring sustainable water for the residence of Sydney. The plan developed systems and structures to ensure water quality was restored and conservation efforts upscale. The construction of desalination plant is a success attributed to the 2010 plan. Water licensing agreements, however, had posed challenges of the operationalization of compliance among water stakeholder (Kenway, 2013). However, the greatest challenge was the perception around the use of municipal wastewater recycling and desalinated seawater. The progressive 2017 water plan, seeks to include the participation of the communities and build their confidence level while handling negative perceptions around the municipal wastewater recycling and the desalination of seawater and its usability. Therefore, the 2017 plan takes deliberate efforts to involve communities in water education and capacity building while involving them in water planning schedules. These activities and approaches have supported in the management of the emergent issue in the water sector.
Current Water Situations in Sydney
The population is expected to rise by over 2 million in the next 20 years (Pettit, Tice, & Randolph, 2017). The growth is expected to put pressure on the over increasing demand for safe water. Accordingly, the upsurge in urbanization and the changing spectrums in the livelihoods, leading to higher densities in the urban areas add enormous pressure to the almost overstretched resources. The key challenges, however, affecting Sydney is the uncertain climatic conditions that are adversely affecting the water resources of the city. The major flow of the river is impacted by the dams due to the uncertainty of weather. Whereas the dams continue to receive water supplies from the river, the replenishment systems of the river have challenges. For instance, the effects of Warragamba dam on the tributary of Hawkesbury Nepean River, which supplies approximately 80% of the Sydney water requirements, is at risk (Kuruppu, & Rahman, 2015). The impacts have made the downstream water flow experience shortages, leading to negative environmental effects and water limitations downstream. Several challenges have affected the water sector given the fact that the involvement of the sector into the development frameworks of the upcoming cities cannot be confirmed irrespective of the fact that water is the one single commodity that equals primary considerations in city development plans. The lack of pre-planning initiatives in the water services sector affects the general outlook of the water blueprint that currently manages its operations from a crisis point. The water sector challenges in Sydney mirrors entire Australia as a continent. Keeping the costs of water at affordable levels is another challenge of the Metropolitan given the aging infrastructure that requires frequent servicing and maintenance that yield considerable cost.
Emergent Issues and Programs to ensure Water Security
Water resources in Australia are limited in quantity and quality, especially from the community perceptions. The water system implemented in the world is closed with water molecules continuously taken in and excreted by individuals or animals. The continuum of recycling water takes an approach of doubt and suitability for consumption, a fact that is not supported scientifically. Abansi and Siason (2018) explain water recycling as the replacement of available water resource through the treatment of municipal wastewater for consumption. Several facts about water recycling are examined on a perceptive platform rather than a factual rule. Human water consumption has moved beyond sustainable levels. These consumption patterns have led to one of the worst environmental challenges and impacts ever experienced in the history of the world. The consumption patterns of water have led to depletion of the natural environmental flows of the water resources. The occasional resulting factors have been an escalation in depletion of the natural water reservoirs like the underground water system.
Empirical researchers in the water sector provide a foundation that wastewater treatment and recycling yields to quality and safeness. However, the level of acceptance that such waters can be used for drinking remains in limbo. Debates about recycling municipal wastewater have publicly been yielding positive results and acceptance in so far as the human consumption is not added as a subject (Head & Atchison, 2016). In fact, the members of the community have vehemently rejected a proposal to test recycled wastewater for drinking purposes. While recycled water discussion continues to halt, especially upon the inclusion of human consumption within the debate, one wonders the rationale of using water despite the current scarcities witnessed worldwide for purposes of construction in the real estate sector, or in large manufacturing sectors that deals with non-human products. Water scientists and experts, however, face an indenting responsibility to coordinate with health experts and social scientists to sort out issues of socio-cultural beliefs and practices around wastewater in order to yield alternative measures of water replenishment in the system.
Desalination versus Wastewater Treatment
Desalination versus recycling wastewater has been a topic of discussion in Sydney for several decades. The challenges informing poor acceptability rate of wastewater recycling have been based on the aspect of human waste in the water (Bradford-Hartke et al., 2015). Wastewater is believed to carry human waste from all sectors of the economy. Such areas include the local kitchen, laundry, pharmaceuticals wastes, and manufacturing among other sectors. The primary concern in Sydney Australia, however, has been the presence of microorganisms like protozoa, bacteria, and helminths excreted from various sectors of the economy (Esquivel, 2015). Among the serious reservations that have been expressed is the impact of treatment failure due to systemic or human errors. Even though failed treatment is an issue that has been mitigated through installation of various system processes, perceptions of the community are yet to be managed. Perhaps one of the major challenges experienced in the debates between wastewater recycling and desalinated water is the chronic health risks involved.
Organic compound traces have been known to exist beyond the treatment process albeit in limited quantities. Even though information disseminated has eliminated the ability of such compounds to pose immediate health risks, the information has not been comprehensively convincing. Bradford-Hartke et al. (2015) posit that since explanations have not been able to cover the chronic health risks exposure to cancer, fertility challenges or behavioral problems when the exposure is long-term, it is inevitably profound in influencing decision-making processes. However, there is a general acceptability reigning in, that the recycled wastewater or the desalinated water from the sea has relevance in the today’s society and the larger Australia community, especially in the current depleting agricultural sector among other risks.
The treatment process of desalinated water is one that is embodied in high technology. Energy is the main driver in the seawater desalination process. According to Verma, Dash, & Bhunia, (2012), desalination or wastewater recycling has a higher cost related to the critical process of pretreatments, chemical additions or cleaning among other factors. For that potable uses of municipal wastewater or the seawater desalination process, the reverse osmosis has been used during the recycling process. The nature of water to be treated somehow requires a higher supply of energy compared to the other natural processes. The treatment of desalinated water requires higher energy to be able to eliminate the amounts of the total dissolved solids in the water – TDS. TDS is the measure of salinity to be extracted in the seawater desalination process (Choi et al., 2017). Several statistical facts point out the fact that recycling municipal wastewater requires lower energy levels compared to the desalination of seawater (Gupta et al., 2012). Dreizin, Tenne, and Hoffman (2008) are of the opinion that the process of desalination is slightly above 50% of the entire process. The capital costs and investments required to install the desalination machinery are enormous and time-consuming. Aspects of operations and maintenance sector costs bring out a different picture. However, the Australian demand for water is high and ever growing to be compared to the high costs of energy.
Community Perceptions and Acceptance
The acceptance of desalinated water by the communities has not been given thoughtful attention in previous studies either from social scientists or water experts. A lot of empirical investigations have concentrated more on recycled compared to desalinated water. The previous investigation into the use of recycled water has generated positive feedback from the public. The acceptance levels are growing day-by-day with reasonable populations accepting the use of recycled water but limited to industrial use within the manufacturing system or within agriculture. The percentage of use of recycled water for domestic consumption, including drinking and cooking reports very low results in Australia (Grant, et al., 2013). Majority of those who support recycled water have maintained the efficacy of its use in activities like firefighting, irrigation of public places like parks, street beatifications or in the construction sectors.
Perceptions and the public viewpoints about the importance or perceived advantages of recycled water have equally been investigated in the recent history. The major concerns have evolved around the health concerns, negative environmental issues, and economic consequences due to higher costs of recycling. Public consumption of the recycled water has very low acceptability rates. However, higher concerns are noted on the environmental and health effects due to the suspected microbiological agent or the chemical availability like endocrine whose continued consumption has threats of cancer (Dawoud, 2012). There is also a general feeling among the public that the reuse strategies are of political inclinations rather than an object for managing water scarcity situations in Australia.
It is also important to note that studies have been conducted, which endeavor to identify the market segments of the population that bears positive adoption perception on recycled water. The findings on the adoption levels seem to gain influence based on education levels, age and incomes or gender sequenced through the higher to the lowest acceptance.
Recent Surveys and Study Findings
Various recent empirical researches conducted in 2017 in Australia reveal a growing acceptance level to bottled desalinated and recycled water. For instance, Waitt (2017) reports that cultural issues about recycled water are being tackled with greater understanding, leading to improved acceptance level. This position is equally supported by James-Overheu (2016). The research conducted by Fielding et al. (2015) reveal that more Australian are accepting alternative forms of water with more elderly persons accepting recycled and desalinated water for drinking. Similarly, another empirical research conducted in Adelaide region involving 1043 residents reveals that more individual are accepting recycled water or the use of third-pipe system (Leonard, Mankad, & Alexander, 2015). The most recent research conducted in October 2016 to ascertain the attitudes of water issues among the populations of Australian attracted 2500 responses from water association members (Furlong et al., 2017). The research revealed that 77% and 83% of Australians showed confidence in using recycled water and desalinated so long as they were treated to standards. This report was scheduled by the Australian water association and Urup (Furlong et al., 2017).
The Tasmanian Water Conflict
The Tasmanian environmental management and pollution Act 1994 is legislation expected to protect waterways from pollution and provide remediation when adverse effects occur. Tasmania has experienced high rainfall patterns compared to several Australian cities and towns. The consistent rainfall patterns due to the easterly weather have occasioned a relaxed approach to conservation efforts leading to adverse pollution of the water catchment. The challenge of Tasmania water pollution has led to the readjustments on the ecosystem having adverse impacts of aquatic life like fish and other related organisms. The Tasmanian polluted waters have been used for irrigation, animal use, and for consumption by human being.
Environmental and water experts have reported the overuse of biocide chemicals in the commercial forestry and plantation leading to over pollution of the water systems. This leads to deposits of pesticides and heavy metal in raw drinking water used by residents. However, the absence of data on the impacts or potential led to serious challenges, necessitating for investigations on the level of pollution. Similarly, the groundwater mapping and flow suffered documentation with serious degradations realized. The adverse challenges of water sources include non-rated pesticides found in water after sampling and an aerial drift of pesticides from surface water to groundwater, causing immense pollution in the two water sources (Kidd et al., 2015).
The intervention of the challenges has led to the publications of the Forest Steward Council (FSC) Australia policy that facilitates watershed protection and the guidance on critical situations. The policy marks the forest as part of drinking water catchment and irrigation system supply. The policy has equally reviewed the Pesticide Policy using a multidisciplinary approach to water toxicity. Government departments like National Toxicity Network (NTN) and the Tasmanian Public and Environmental Health Network among others have through the multidisciplinary approaches developed workable milestones to attain water security for all Tasmanians. The government and the relevant departments have adopted a strategy to engage the community of water education and capacity development to detect water issues and report effectively. This effort has been successful coupled with the policy on erosion and correct use of land close to water sources. Such educations, activities, and responses through reporting are bearing positive results.
Community Engagement Strategy
The modern-day challenges experienced in Australia related to water scarcity requires urgent approaches that will lead to the adoption of alternative water sources within the water value chains. To ensure that the public perceptions change and their strong viewpoints against the adoption of these alternative water sources are altered, the study developed a community engagement programme. This is a community arrangement study for the adoption of wastewater recycling and desalination in Australia. The study was conducted with the objective of improving perceptions on municipal recycled wastewater and the seawater desalination.
Methodology and Data
The study tested the public perception on the recycling of the municipal wastewater and the desalination of the sea water. The two approaches were tested independently of each other with varied respondents. The approach employed in the study was a survey-oriented methodology with the research tested on various questions. The questions relevant to the research include a brief survey based on the environmental situations in Australia with regards to environmentally friendly behavior.
The respondents to the questions were randomly selected from the various stakeholders in Australia. The study took advantage of water users and stakeholder conference called by the Australian government to discuss water and environmental issues in the country. The randomly selected respondents for the survey were invited to fill in an internet-based survey that lasted for approximately 20 minutes. The invitation for the participants was withdrawn when the populations of the responded reached 500 each of the two areas tested. Each study of the two water sources had 500 participants who included community members, water users associations, relevant government departments related to water like health, forestry among others stakeholders like licensed water operators, environmentalists, and other professional, including public water institutions and colleges.
The Study Questions
The questionnaire was set with questions with allowed the comparison of the perceptions and the acceptance of municipal waste recycled water and the desalinated water.
- The perception question where respondents were required to state whether the several statements given in the survey of a questionnaire about recycled and desalinated water were true.
- The question about the likelihood of use in which respondents we expected to provide a score on a five-point scale, and the likelihood that they will use recycled or desalinated water for a list of purposes annotated.
- Single questions where respondent was expected to list based on a ranking scale, likely uses of recycled and desalinated water. The ranking order was expected to follow an ascending model based on the water activities indicated.
- The final series was an open-ended question that required respondents to declare their concerns using the two water sources of recycled and desalination.
The study developed a hypothetical view through the questions of likelihood of adoption of the two water sources. The study, therefore, made the assumption that issues of smell or color of the water had no impacts in swaying decisions.
Results and Discussions
The open-ended questions where respondents were expected to annotate their issues with recycled or desalinated water brought about precise viewpoints about the two water resources. The concerns that took the empirical stage were about health, environment, and costs. Recycled water compared to health wellness suffered the lowest score of 45% yet it scored higher at 65% to public usages like street beatification or irrigations. Approximately 65 % of the respondents listed health-related concerns as an impact on the usability of the two water sources. The questions about the perceived dangers that the recycled and desalinated water has to the environment were answered at 8% with 13%, mentioning specific health concerns like cancer among other prolonged illness. However, respondents viewed this section the highest cost carrier due to the complexities of disease diagnosis and treatment. This fact confirms earlier findings of the study.
The open-ended discussion taken from the open-ended questions could not be given systematic scoring since respondents were allowed the opportunity to express their own opinions with regards to wastewater recycling and desalination. Conversely, there were several questions where respondents were required to rate their perception over the use of recycled and desalinated water sources. Recycled water scored high among respondents with their view on environmental friendliness compared to the desalination source. This is because community perceptions or information about desalinated water source as having higher levels of negative impacts to the environment, including the more energy required and the issues about greenhouse emissions. A higher percentage of the respondents at almost 68% agree with the facts that desalinated water is environmentally friendly. The principal reality that could be deduced from the study is the underlining relationship between the two water sources and their importance. This finding is important to Australia as a continent because it covers a higher desert land compared to other regions. The general acceptance of municipal water recycling and the desalination sources are being built with higher acceptance albeit the limited sake.
Figure 1: Comparative perceptions and environmental knowledge about the issues
In figure one, the respondents were put through a series of questions to investigate their knowledge of the environments to ascertain the extent to which it affects the water sector and water resources. This was compared to the perceptions of recycled and desalinated water. The opinions provided seem to agree with other previously scheduled research relevant to the situations of Australia today. See figure 1 below.
Figure 2: Comparative perception and the knowledge on the health issues
The questions on health issues were the highest rated in the study. 69% of the respondents agree that desalinated water is healthy, while 46% agree that recycled water is healthy. Generally, the response in making a comparison between recycled and desalinated water believe desalinated water is healthier compared to recycled water. Interesting to note is the growing trust of both the desalinated and the recycled water. Almost all the participants agree that the sources of water are healthy except for their uses where their preferences are seen to have variations. Check figure 2 below.
Figure 3: Comparative perceptions about general nature of water sources
The section raised questions majorly oriented to test their general knowledge about the water sources. It becomes evident that respondents have a reservation on the two sources of water. However, recycled water has higher reservations compared to desalinated water. Almost 79% of respondent have the opinion that desalinated water is drinkable with slightly below half agreeing with this point. 33% had health issues coming from desalinated water with 61% raising health issues with drinking recycled water. Other issues like odorless and color, desalinated water seems to perform higher compared to recycled water. With regards to the chemical compositions, recycled water was seen to bear more chemicals like disinfectants, including other microorganism compared to desalinate water. Check figure 3 below
The figures indicate the respondents’ perceptions of the likelihood of use. Considering the responses, more people seem to rate firefighting as the highest likely use of both recycled and desalinated water. Rated down was drinking and washing where majority of respondents preferred desalinated water compared to the recycled when they have to choose between the two sources. There is a likelihood of around 10 – 20% using desalinated water for bathing and showering (body contact) compared to recycled water.
Variance in Engagement Study
Discussions about recycled and desalinated water despite the increasing acceptance levels are still met with suspicious ideologies from the local populations. Engagements on the platforms, therefore, suffer systemic difference and variances based on the approach and the type of populations involved in the study. For example, knowledge is on the overriding importance in the discussion of the two sources of water meant to manage perceptions. This implies that where there is limited knowledge, perception grows higher, leading to a variant results on acceptability. Accordingly, where there is higher and superior knowledge, perceptions rate low leading to increased acceptance of the two water sources. This implies that a mixed demographic studied on a balanced platform with no hardline position or influence will provide a more balanced result compared to an elite demography that may overlook perception or equally compared to low levels community members that pose higher perceptions compared to the available scientific facts around water.
The engagement study employed in this paper took a multispectral approach, bringing together all stakeholders in the water sector and engaging through survey and questionnaire. This included policy formulators, water user associations, relevant government departments, and local community populations. The multi-disciplinary approach, therefore, midwifed a collective approach handling both the knowledge available and managing issues of community perceptions to arrive at a comprehensive decision by the people. It is important to note that through the engagement study, the approach to test all the variable to all respondents was important since it provided a balanced approach to the results of the study. Engagement through focus group discussion is equally likely to provide a variant result. This is so because the population demographic variances and the dynamics of the respondents could be considered due to the fact that managing dynamic respondents with regards to educational level, sociocultural beliefs, and practices or the exposure level is different.
The study provides evidence that the Australian populations discriminated between the two sources of water. There seem to be knowledge gaps within the populations with regards to information on the water sources and the realities between them. Even though the majority of respondents seem to agree on the environmental friendliness of recycled water compared to desalinated water, higher percentages seem to consider desalinated water safer for human use like washing and drinking among other uses compared to recycled water. It is necessary that more community capacity building, education, and awareness forums are scheduled to continually educate the public on health and safeness of both the water sources to improve the water situations in Australia. Water shortage in the world is almost reaching to crisis point; therefore, the question of adoption within the Australian system is critical and should be addressed. Even though it is not correct to indicate that Australian prefer recycled or desalinated water due to perception indicated above, it is worth noting that this perspective is based on the aspect that there is still available fresh water from natural sources like rivers and springs. However, the general acceptance of recycled and desalinated water is substantially improving with time.
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