Check out an ESRI Story Map about my project here: Water Reuse In Norman, OK Story Map
My research this summer focused on public perceptions and acceptance of water reuse in Norman, Oklahoma. I was interested in doing a psychological study on disgust and acceptance of recycled water. In Norman, city officials are planning for long-term Indirect Potable wastewater reuse. This means some of our wastewater would be sent to Lake Thunderbird after treatment, which is one of Norman’s main water sources. Participants were surveyed about their willingness and associated disgust related to water reuse. We were interested in seeing what it is about a person that influences their levels of disgust about water reuse. We asked participants their age, education level, political affiliation, and if they had previous knowledge of Norman’s water reuse plan. We found that Norman was very willing to use this water for nonpotable uses: watering lawns, irrigating crops, and cleaning. People were more resistant to drinking this water, and providing information didn’t have a strong effect. What did matter was whether people already knew about the project. Those with previous knowledge were much more willing to use reclaimed water. This shows us that education does matter and those that are more involved in their community are more willing to use reclaimed water.
As I continue with this project, I have a lot of different avenues I want to explore. I’d like to further investigate the idea that knowledge of the project increases willingness to use reclaimed water by taking a group of participants on a tour of the wastewater reclamation facility and comparing their opinions to a control group. Seeing the entire process and seeing how clear and clean the water is at the end may have a real effect on people’s understanding of how water is recycled and their trust in public officials. As I continue to work on this project, I’d like to include measures of trust in public officials and risk perceptions to see their influence on people’s disgust. I’d also like to investigate whether health vulnerability increases disgust. From an evolutionary standpoint, it would make sense that people more prone to health problems have higher disgust. Finally, I’d like to shift the goal of my project to not just gather opinions, but to see if people are willing to vote for a proposition to expand Norman’s water reuse plan. We know most people are willing to use reclaimed water for things like watering and cleaning, but since Norman has only one water system, would people vote “Yes” on a bill that would include Indirect Potable Reuse in our drinking water supply.
This summer was a research experience that I am incredibly grateful for. Not only did I have the autonomy to pursue interdisciplinary research, I was mentored by two OU professors that showed investment in their time resources and wisdom. Our weekly meetings focused on professional development skills that have helped me feel confident in my ability to move onto the next step in my professional career. Before this summer, I was a multitasker. I thought I could get just as much done that way. I’ve learned the importance of organization, specific scheduling, and goal setting. As a student, it’s incredibly important for me to have an idea of where I’m going and to manifest my abstract goals into specific short-term tasks. I have a much better system of time management and organization after this summer. But the biggest lesson I took away from my experience is success in any discipline is about relationships. The more you empathize with others, the more you will be able to adapt and excel. I am extremely grateful to Dr. Angela Person and Dr. Randy Peppler for the opportunity to research something I am passionate about with guidance from their own professional experiences.