In an online survey seeking information on Perth people's preference for expanding the drinking water supply through a second desalination scheme or a recycled water scheme, a natural resource economist postgraduate student at The University of Western Australia found that Perth's population was split into two camps.
Fiona Gibson, who divides her time between UWA and a farm in Mingenew, said 50 per cent of the sample population would be willing to pay for a recycled water scheme rather than a second desalination scheme while 20 per cent would be willing to accept recycled water providing there was a discount applied to their annual water service fee. Thirty per cent of the total sample would not, however, accept recycled water even with a discount of $130 to their annual water service fee. For this group of consumers economic incentives are clearly not the only consideration.
Before enrolling for her PhD, Ms Gibson worked as an environmental planner in the Department of Planning.
"In the survey, fairness and psychological repugnance were the drivers of both acceptance and rejection of recycled water," Ms Gibson said.
"The 50 per cent of respondents who said they would prefer recycled water to desalination said they believed recycled water was fairer to Perth households, the environment, and future generations. The economic incentive was not the only major driver of the respondents' decisions.
"Perth's water shortage has impacted growth in several sectors, particularly intensive agriculture to the north. Replenishment of Perth's groundwater aquifers using recycled water may provide an opportunity to alleviate shortages."
Ms Gibson presented the findings from the survey at the recent Institute of Agriculture UWA postgraduate showcase.