By Dan McCarthy
Editor's note: From October 2009 through June 2010, engineering consulting firm Black & Veatch convened roundtable discussions with 75 leaders representing public and private providers of water and wastewater services, trade associations, and academia.
The talks took place during six major industry conferences: three in the United States and one each in Australia, Singapore, and the United Kingdom.
For a partial list of participants, see page 41.
If you're trying to make recycled water an integral component of your water management portfolio, try not to be discouraged by the challenges — public concern, conflicting standards, overlapping regulatory jurisdictions — you've encountered.
Some of your colleagues are clearing regulatory hurdles while dispelling misconceptions about quality. They've learned that ensuring adequate future supply hinges not only on intelligent recovery and reuse, but also on advancing new paradigms. Their following recommendations form a call to action to adopt a more integrative mindset and continue such dialogues to better understand and align water and wastewater viewpoints.
Eliminate misconceptions with clear, consistent, and continuous information about the water and wastewater treatment processes.
You can't start too early when it comes to dispelling concerns about health consequences. We need to institute strong programs about water reuse in the schools to carry the message up from children to parents.
Don't focus on the solution without first raising awareness of the problem and the true value of water. Consumers assume access to water is their right because it falls from the sky, but they don't consider treatment and conveyance costs.
A drought presents an excellent opportunity to offer, through the media and in-person presentations to stakeholders like environmental groups and regional authorities, long-term alternatives for overcoming scarcity. Use that opportunity to demonstrate the benefit of reused water and gain buy-in for alternative approaches.
A crisis is a terrible thing to waste. You don't want to make decisions in crises, but they highlight a problem that enables you to come to a solution you might not have had otherwise.
Because trust is of paramount importance in implementing a reuse program, make communications with the public transparent, open, and evidence-based — even when circumstances change and you need to reverse a decision.
Sometimes it's best not to sugarcoat the topic of reuse, but rather to be up front with people. If you don't get their buy-in early, you aren't going to be able to make the investment necessary to make reuse work. And sometimes you have to go back to consumers with new data and say, “But now we know more.”