Purifying Water: Responding to Public Opposition to the Implementation of Direct Potable Reuse in California.

Author:Kenney, Suzanne

Table of Contents Introduction I. A Framework for Legitimizing DPR II. Why DPR is Viable in California A. California's History of Potable Reuse B. Other Examples of Potable Reuse C. The Future of DPR in California III. Public Perception as an Obstacle to Implementation A. The "Yuck Factor" B. Failures 1. Los Angeles 2. San Diego C. Success 1. Redwood City 2. Orange County IV. Applying the Suchman Framework to DPR in California A. Conform to Local Environments 1. Pragmatic 2. Moral 3. Cognitive B. Manipulate Local Environments 1. Pragmatic 2. Moral 3. Cognitive Conclusion Introduction

All water is recycled water. (4) Natural water undergoes a long cycle of purification and re-introduction into potable sources, (5) but manmade reclamation methods have made it possible to accelerate the natural process through the treatment and purification of water. (6) This Comment will focuses on one water source with specific treatment requirements: recycled wastewater. The term "purified water" will be used throughout this Comment to describe recycled wastewater that is suitable for potable use. (7)

There are two primary methods of recycling wastewater for potable reuse: Indirect Potable Reuse (IPR) and Direct Potable Reuse (DPR). (8) This Comment will focus on DPR, but to understand DPR it is important to distinguish it from IPR. In IPR, wastewater is treated and pumped into a groundwater basin or other water source. (9) The natural body of water serves as an environmental buffer separating the treated wastewater from public drinking water systems. (10) The treated wastewater remains in the natural body of water until it is taken to a drinking water plant, where it undergoes further treatment before it is determined safe for human consumption. (11) Then, the purified water is introduced into a potable water distribution system where it is pumped to residences and buildings for potable use. (12) It is well-documented that IPR produces drinking water of exceptional quality. (13)

In contrast, DPR is the process of recycling water without using an environmental buffer. (14) As a result, wastewater can be treated and introduced into a potable system within a matter of hours. (15) DPR adheres to the same, or higher, treatment objectives as IPR and experts believe it may produce higher-quality water than IPR. (16) There are two main methods of DPR. The first method involves the planned introduction of recycled wastewater directly into a public water system. (17) In the second method, recycled wastewater is introduced into a raw water supply immediately upstream of a water treatment plant. (18) If implemented correctly, DPR provides a self-sustaining water source that, because of its efficiency, is drought resistant. (19)

Today, there are no uniform state or federal regulations for DPR in the United States. However, California may be on the brink of passing uniform state regulations for DPR. In January 2018, California State Assembly Bill 574 (AB 574) took effect. (20) AB 574 requires the State Water Resources Control Board to develop DPR regulations by the end of 2023, provided research on public health issues is completed. (21) Uniform regulations will be a momentous step toward the realization of DPR technology and, California's DPR regulations could serve as a template for other states. However, California's success depends on public acceptance of DPR as a legitimate source of water, and the public has a history of rejecting potable reuse projects.

This Comment explores the public's negative perception of potable reuse in California, which is a major obstacle to the implementation of DPR technology in the state. Unlike other research on this topic, this Comment will demonstrate the extent to which a uniform legal framework influences public acceptance of DPR. Further, this Comment will offer a holistic approach for overcoming the public's deep-rooted fear of contaminated water. In particular, it focuses on the problem posed by women's negative perception of DPR in California, an issue not previously highlighted in other research on this issue.

This Comment will utilize case studies of both successful and failed potable reuse projects in California to illustrate the steps that need to be taken to earn public acceptance of DPR. On a practical level, this Comment can inform policymakers as they consider utilizing DPR technologies in their own communities.

Part I provides a framework for public acceptance. This framework, created by organizational theorists, provides guidance on how organizations can act with legitimacy. Part I will highlight the central theme of this Comment: Uniform regulations of DPR is only the first step towards public acceptance of DPR. To have the legitimacy to create DPR facilities that the public accepts, municipalities and water distributors must wage multifaceted, public perception campaigns.

Part II then explains why California is uniquely suited to embrace DPR. This Part addresses the physical, political, and economic reasons why DPR is likely to succeed in California. Further, it explores California's history of potable reuse, which provides important context for any future attempts to implement DPR in California. This background will frame the discussion of how to change public perception of DPR.

Part III discusses a major obstacle to the success of DPR regulation and implementation in California-critical public perception of recycled wastewater. Historically, people have abhorred the idea of recycled wastewater. It is important to understand their underlying concerns in order to effectively address them. This Comment illustrates community resistance and how it may be addressed through examples of potable reuse projects in Los Angeles, San Diego, Redwood City, and Orange County.

Part IV assesses how to address critical public perception, as discussed in Part III. This Part applies the framework outlined in Part I to develop a holistic set of policy recommendations. Part IV illustrates that, in order to legitimize a controversial new technology, states must develop uniform regulations for their adoption and implementation. Simultaneously, municipalities must launch multiyear campaigns to change the public's negative perceptions of DPR.

  1. A Framework for Legitimizing DPR

    In order to create and operate DPR facilities, the public must accept water produced through DPR as legitimate. Without the consent of the public, municipalities will be unable to distribute purified water from DPR projects. But how does a municipality go about earning public acceptance of its DPR project?

    The answer may lie in organizational theory, a body of research describing how organizations obtain public support. Organizational theorists use the term legitimacy to describe public acceptance of an agency's actions. In the words of Mark C. Suchman, a leading organizational theorist, legitimacy is the "generalized perception or assumption that the actions of an entity are desirable, proper, or appropriate within some socially constructed system of norms, values, beliefs, and definitions." (22)

    This Comment will apply Suchman's framework for evaluating organizational legitimacy to DPR projects. (23) Suchman's framework is widely recognized by sociologists for identifying the three main forms of organizational legitimacy: pragmatic, moral, and cognitive. (24) This framework is comprehensive and provides critical insight into the way organizations gain and lose legitimacy. Ultimately, this framework highlights the tools that municipalities and water agencies will need to develop a strategy to gain full public acceptance of DPR projects.

    According to Suchman's framework, pragmatic legitimacy rests on an individual's judgment about whether an organization's behavior benefits them. (25) For example, a person could evaluate a policy's benefit to them by measuring the value they expect to gain from the policy or the degree to which the policy promotes an interest they have. (26) Moral legitimacy is measured by an individual's subjective belief that the organization's behavior promotes societal welfare. (27) An individual may look to the outputs, consequences, techniques, procedures, structures, and leadership of an organization to measure how much its actions promote societal welfare. (28) Cognitive legitimacy describes an individual's passive or subconscious support for an organization based on their belief that a policy is necessary or inevitable. (29) This belief is measured by the degree to which an individual "takes-for-granted" that an organization is acting as they can or should. (30)

    Suchman then provides a framework to help organizations appeal to these three aspects of legitimacy. This framework consists of three distinct but interconnected legitimacy-building strategies that organizations, such as the California State Water Resources Control Board, can employ. First, an organization can conform to the dictates of preexisting audiences within the organization's current social environment. Second, an organization can select among multiple environments in pursuit of an audience that will support current practices. Third, an organization can manipulate environmental structure by creating new audiences and new legitimating beliefs. (31) The following chart gives examples of how an organization can employ Suchman's framework for gaining legitimacy: (32)

    Pragmatic Moral 1. Conform Conform to demands: Conform to ideals: Respond to needs Produce proper Coopt constituents outcomes Build reputation Embed in institutions Offer symbolic displays 2. Select Select markets: Select domain: Locate friendly Define goals audiences Recruit friendly co-optees 3. Manipulate Advertise: Persuade: Advertise product Demonstrate success Advertise image Proselytize Pragmatic Cognitive 1. Conform Conform to demands: Conform to models: Respond to needs Mimic standards Coopt constituents Formalize operations Build reputation Professionalize...

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