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Remaking waste as water: The governance of recycled effluent for potable water supply

Katharine Meehan
Department of Geography, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR, USA;
Kerri Jean Ormerod
School of Geography and Development, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, USA;
Sarah A. Moore
Department of Geography, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI, USA;

ABSTRACT: Water managers increasingly rely on the indirect potable reuse (IPR) of recycled effluent to augment potable water supplies in rapidly growing cities. At the same time, the presence of waste -€“ as abject material -€“ clearly remains an object of concern in IPR projects, spawning debate and opposition among the public. In this article, we identify the key governance factors of IPR schemes to examine how waste disrupts and stabilises existing practices and ideologies of water resources management. Specifically, we analyse and compare four prominent IPR projects from the United States and Australia, and identify the techno-scientific, legal, and socio-economic components necessary for successful implementation of IPR projects. This analysis demonstrates that successful IPR projects are characterised by large-scale, centralised infrastructure, state and techno-scientific control, and a political economy of water marked by supply augmentation and unchecked expansion. We argue that -€“ despite advanced treatment -€“ recycled effluent is a parallax object: a material force that disrupts the power geometries embedded in municipal water management. Consequently, successful IPR schemes must stabilise a particular mode of water governance, one in which recycled effluent is highly regulated and heavily policed. We conclude with insights about the future role of public participation in IPR projects.

KEYWORDS: Water reuse, indirect potable reuse, waste, power, governance