Publication Date



Open access

Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)


Ecosystem Science and Policy (Graduate)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Kenneth Broad

Second Committee Member

Kiara Timpano

Third Committee Member

Milica Mormann

Fourth Committee Member

Maxwell Boykoff


Water scarcity and distribution of global water supplies are central to sustainable development, and are likely to be exacerbated by climate change and increasing urbanization. Water reuse has been proposed as a potential solution in some areas, as it is relatively cheaper than, and environmentally preferable to, alternatives such as desalination. In the industrialized world, a psychological aversion to recycled water has been well documented, characterized by reactions of disgust. In several cases, public opposition alone – often driven by messages framed in terms of disgust – has overturned plans to reuse water (i.e., California’s ‘toilet to tap’ campaign and Australia’s ‘Citizens Against Drinking Sewage’). Implementation of water recycling is further complicated by context-dependent factors—including institutional trust, as well as economic and regulatory realities. Emotional disgust may interact with cultural and cognitive factors in these different contexts and may even underlie moral judgments about recycled water, creating emergent levels of complexity when attempting to communicate about recycled water. Finally, these bottom-up influences in the form of public stakeholder attitudes interact with top-down forces from water management institutions and regulatory bodies to determine at what stage water reuse is considered and how strict requirements will be for implementation. Thus, water reuse is environmental issue positioned at the intersection of ideological, moral, emotional, and political factors. This dissertation addresses existing gaps in the literature on moral and emotional framing of water reuse and examines the relationship between public attitudes and changing water management strategies in a case study of water recycling in Texas – where the first direct potable reuse plans in the United States are currently being implemented. A series of related but independent multi-disciplinary projects address the issue of water reuse in relation to emotion, morality, and policy. Chapter 1 introduces the problem and provides a cross-disciplinary review of water recycling. Chapter 2 presents an investigation of the individual and psychological differences that relate to the well-documented emotional discomfort with water recycling. Chapter 3 explores attitudes toward water reuse in the United States and presents the results of a large, national survey looking at the relationship between psychological and individual differences, emotional disgust, and willingness to use recycled water. Chapter 4 examines the relationship between moral messages and ideology through a series of framing experiments. Chapter 5 determines how these public attitudes interact with institutional changes at the state level to create barriers and opportunities for water reuse policies. Finally, Chapter 6 synthesizes the findings of the previous chapters, offering closing thoughts on the application of interdisciplinary research frameworks to complex environmental problems. The implications for policy, outreach and communication, and further research in the field of water reuse will be discussed.


water recycling; decision making; emotion; disgust; policy making