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Psychological predictors of public acceptance for urban stormwater reuse

Mankad, Aditi, Walton, Andrea, Gardner, John
Journal of hydrology 2019 v.572 pp. 414-421
aquifers, drinking water, issues and policy, lifestyle, morality, psychosocial factors, public opinion, regression analysis, social behavior, stormwater, surveys, variance, water conservation, water reuse, water shortages
Urban residents are becoming more aware of water scarcity issues and paying greater attention to their total water consumption. Simultaneously, perceptions of what is considered drinkable water are also evolving. The present study examines whether attitudinal evaluations of stormwater influence the public acceptance of stormwater that is treated and sourced through managed aquifer recharge (MAR). It was hypothesised that treated stormwater used for non-potable purposes would be more acceptable amongst participants, and that select psychological factors (perceptions, values and norms) would be significant predictors of public acceptance for MAR. Participants (N = 408) took part in an online survey which measured public acceptance of stormwater, social norms, stormwater attitudes, water beliefs and water conservation culture. These factors were experimentally examined across two different types of water use: “drinking water” or “non-drinking water”. Multiple regression analysis demonstrated that stormwater end use and selected psychological factors accounted for 79% of variance in acceptance of stormwater. While there was significantly higher acceptance for the use of MAR for non-drinking purposes overall, ‘end use’ was a weak predictor of public acceptance for MAR. The most important predictors of acceptance were social norms and value-driven attitudes towards stormwater. Results showed that perceptions of approval from important others (e.g. family and friends) and personal moral values were influential in explaining acceptance for stormwater. Interestingly, water conservation culture was a negative predictor of acceptance, where people who believed that conserving water was part of the Australian lifestyle tended to have lower acceptance for a supplemental stormwater supply. These people were more likely to support initiatives encouraging conservation of water use as key to managing water supplies. The findings articulate the need to consider existing public attitudes and norms within communities where alternative resources are proposed, to inform policy and practice.