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Understanding grower perceptions and attitudes on the use of nontraditional water sources, including reclaimed or recycled water, in the semi-arid Southwest United States

Dery, Jessica L., Rock, Channah M., Goldstein, Rachel Rosenberg, Onumajuru, Cathy, Brassill, Natalie, Zozaya, Stevi, Suri, Mayhah R.
Environmental research 2019 v.170 pp. 500-509
dust control, education, environmental enrichment, farm size, farmers' attitudes, food availability, forage crops, growers, industry, irrigated farming, irrigation, landscapes, needs assessment, power generation, public health, public opinion, recycled water, risk perception, surveys, uncertainty, wastewater treatment, water resources, water reuse, water stress, Southwestern United States
The use of nontraditional water sources, including reclaimed or recycled water, has become a desirable option to meet increasing demands in water stressed regions. In the Southwest United States, utilization of alternative water sources is becoming increasingly common, including use for landscape irrigation, environmental enhancement, cooling and power generation, potable reuse, and as a source water for agricultural irrigation. While much research has gone into identifying public perception towards water reuse schemes, little attention has been given to understanding grower attitudes, perceptions, and knowledge on the use of nontraditional water, including reclaimed water, in agriculture and how that may influence grower acceptance and production practices. This unique study utilized a needs assessment survey of growers (n = 521) within the Southwest region of the United States to gain an understanding of industry attitudes and needs regarding nontraditional water in agriculture. Results indicate that the majority of survey respondents were concerned with water availability (67.49%) yet less than half (48.30%) thought using a nontraditional water source in agriculture was ‘very important’. Interestingly, respondents rated irrigation of ‘food crops’ third (42.20%) among agricultural activities for which they would be willing to use nontraditional water sources, behind irrigation of forage crops (61.60%) and dust control (61.60%). The importance of the use of nontraditional water sources in agriculture was influenced mostly by farm size (p = 0.007) and primary water source (p = 0.016), and the level of education was significant in respondent's level of concern over water availability (p = 0.021). Information on the quality of nontraditional water sources, showing that it is as good or better than respondents current sources, was found to shift rejection and uncertainty towards acceptance by 16.04%. The results of this study provide insight into perceived risks, willingness to use, drivers and constraints to grower adoption, and preferred methods of education regarding water reuse in agriculture. These findings can be used by water managers and planners to aid in the adoption of nontraditional waters, including reclaimed or recycled water, in agriculture thus extending water resources, securing food supplies, and protecting public health.