Governing Risk, Reuse and Reclamation: Water Pollution Control and New Water Resources in the Southwestern United States

EPA Grant Number: FP917357
Title: Governing Risk, Reuse and Reclamation: Water Pollution Control and New Water Resources in the Southwestern United States
Investigators: Ormerod, Kerri J
Institution: University of Arizona
EPA Project Officer: Zambrana, Jose
Project Period: September 1, 2011 through August 31, 2014
Project Amount: $126,000
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2011) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Academic Fellowships , Fellowship - Emerging Environmental Approaches and Challenges: Social Sciences


Highly treated municipal wastewater, known as reclaimed water, is an increasingly sought after water resource. This research project examines three critical uncertainties that will govern the future use of reclaimed water: (1) public values and social pressure; (2) the political, legal and institutional contexts; and (3) the role of science and technology in defining ideas, facts, themes and solutions.


Law-or governance-is the primary arena where social contestations regarding risk are mediated. This research project examines the formal, institutional and organized forms of risk management regarding water pollution control by paying particular attention to the legal dimensions of reclaimed water planning (including policy, laws, court decisions, regulations and citizen-led ballot initiatives), and the material and physical consequences of their logic (such as investment in wastewater treatments facilities, separate reclaimed water systems, and effluent-dependent ecosystems). This dissertation research also will address differences between the conventional logic of experts and the general public, as well as the role of law in balancing risks, advancing conservation goals, promoting equity and maintaining public trust.

Expected Results:

By characterizing public attitudes toward reclaimed water, expected results of this research will help water planners and municipal utilities carefully address public concerns before setting reclaimed water policy and will allow for temporal, operational and strategic incorporation of behavioral considerations in the planning and implementation process.

Potential to Further Environmental / Human Health Protection

Given the context of future water scarcity effectively integrating reclaimed water supplies will be crucial to sustaining both human and environmental health. Recognition of the social and legal assumptions and vulnerabilities identified in this research will be imperative for preventing conflicts over reclaimed water resources. In addition, this research will provide critical information about public perceptions of reclaimed water supplies that will increase understanding of public values and behaviors. The legal and institutional analyses included as part of this study also will highlight problems of definition that may become problems of the market, trade and regulation. Importantly, this research also acknowledges the environmental tradeoffs of greater reclaimed water utilization, especially for riparian habitats in the arid Southwest.

Supplemental Keywords:

reclaimed water, risk perception, water quality, water supply, water pollution control

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2012
  • 2013
  • Final