Conservation Matters July 2012

The Texas Land, Water and Wildlife Connection

TWRI grant recipient studies perception of water reuse in Texas

By Alejandra Arreola-Triana

Last year's exceptional drought placed Texas' water supply under great strain, and the state's growing population—which might reach 46 million by 2060—is predicted to further deplete existing supplies. To meet this ever-growing demand, water suppliers across the state are considering and implementing different water management strategies, including water reuse.

Texas State University-San Marcos graduate student Shae Luther is studying how communities and people view water reuse strategies, with her advisor, Dr. Richard W. Dixon, associate professor of geography. Water reuse strategies include using treated wastewater to irrigate crop fields, lawns or parks; flush toilets and contribute to drinking water supplies.

Luther, a resident of Austin, Texas, and recipient of a 2011–2012 Texas Water Resources Institute (TWRI) $5,000 research grant, investigated reuse projects currently in place in Midland, Potter, Lubbock and Collin counties in Texas. "These counties were chosen because they reported using more than 10 million gallons per day of recycled wastewater," Luther said.

Luther's research began by interviewing water managers about their water reuse projects and whether they incorporated the public's input in the project planning process. She then surveyed the counties' residents about their perceptions of water reuse. Ninety-seven percent of the residents surveyed viewed water reuse as a "valid conservation strategy for preserving fresh, potable water resources," as long as it is used for irrigation or other indirect uses. 

Luther also found that water managers saw reused water as a viable option for quenching the growing population's thirst. However, she found the public thought otherwise: only 8 percent of the people Luther surveyed were willing to consider drinking reused water.

"Most people seemed rather willing to accept water reuse practices such as irrigation," Luther said, "but usually only those with minimal or no human contact."

She said she hopes water managers will use her data to create stronger education programs that address the public's perception of water reuse and conservation. "Water reuse is a viable strategy for maintaining sustainable water supplies," Luther said, "but without community backing, future projects may face insurmountable opposition."

Her research was funded by TWRI with funds obtained through the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) as part of the National Institutes for Water Research annual research program. TWRI is the designated institute for water resources research in Texas.

For more information on Luther's research, visit USGS Research Grants.

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