Water-Recycling in South-East Queensland, Australia: What Do Men and Women Think?

Article excerpt

Abstract

In January 2007, South-East Queensland became the first region in Australia to formally decide to introduce recycled water into the drinking supplies. Internationally, although water recycling occurs in the United States, United Kingdom, Singapore and Belgium, surprisingly little is known about public perceptions. This article explores gender differences in knowledge and acceptance of water recycling as a solution to the water crisis in Australia. A postal survey of Pine Rivers Shire residents showed that both men and women attempted to use water responsibly and had deliberately made changes to reduce their household's water consumption in the past year. All believed that the general community did not have adequate knowledge to vote on water recycling and were supportive of the government's decision to implement it without a referendum. Women were more dubious about the trustworthiness and science of the technology, while men were more knowledgeable and followed the debate more closely. Men were more supportive of building dams and increasing the price of water, whereas women prioritised desalination and greywater. By highlighting the similarities and differences between men and women on the water crisis and water recycling in South-East Queensland, this research will inform the development of risk communication, education and engagement strategies.

Keywords

Water recycling, gender differences, perception, trust, knowledge

Received 10 April 2008 Accepted 17 June 2008

Introduction

Water is increasingly described as the dominant global issue of the 21st century, as both developing and developed countries experience water availability and quality challenges due to demand, drought and development (Miller, 2006). Whilst each region will respond differently to this water crisis, the solutions will almost invariably involve a combination of sustainable water management policies: demand management and behaviour change initiatives; full water pricing; and new infrastructure and technologies, such as water desalination and water recycling. In many countries there has been significant community debate about water recycling, with local residents often opposed to the idea of drinking treated recycled wastewater. This paper explores gender differences in knowledge and acceptance of water recycling as a solution to the water crisis in South- East Queensland (SEQ), which is currently the first and only region in Australia to formally decide to recycle water for potable use.

Australian and international water recycling projects

The global water crisis has prompted the development of water recycling projects in the United States, the United Kingdom, Namibia, Belgium, Singapore, Israel, and Australia. Generally, recycling water for nonpotable industry (i.e., agricultural and horticultural irrigation) and household (i.e., toilet flushing and garden watering) usage is accepted by the public, whereas recycling water for potable use (i.e., drinking) is a more controversial issue (Po, Kaercher & Nancarrow, 2003). After over 40 years of experience, however, scientists have reported no negative health effects - toxicological or epidemiological - from planned potable recycling schemes, with the water found to be of equal or better quality than traditional sources (Khan & Roser, 2007). It is important here to acknowledge the difference between planned and nonplanned systems of water recycling, and the subsequent impact on community engagement and acceptance. Planned recycled water is wastewater that has been purposively treated for drinking, usually through a highly technical process involving microfiltration, reverse osmosis and advanced oxidation (Queensland Water Commission, 2007). Conversely, unplanned recycled water is when wastewater enters the natural water system without consumer's explicit knowledge, for example when communities draw their water supplies from rivers that receive wastewater discharges upstream. …