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Water sustainability: Public perceptions and health implications of water reuse.

   Doctoral College

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  Dr Ian Mayor-Smith , Dr A Lansley, Dr Mary Gearey  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

A rapid rise in global per capita consumption of freshwater alongside fluctuation of supply due to climate change impacts indicates there will be a 40% shortfall in available freshwater resources by 2030. In response to this growing challenge of water scarcity, the Water Action Decade (2018-2028) was initiated by the United Nations General Assembly to address how water is managed ( Water scarcity is not just an issue for hot, dry countries. Parts of England and Wales are recognised to be water stressed and this is expected to worsen with predicted increases in per capita water use and climatic change (UK CCRA 2017). Where natural water resources are limited, they can be augmented. Water reuse technology-based options include direct or indirect water reuse (recycling) and desalination, methods specifically mentioned in the UN’s 2030 agenda (

A critical case study is emerging in the South of England that is likely to shape the scope and approach to UK water resources over the next century. A legally binding Section 20 agreement between the Environment Agency and Southern Water requires an alternative water source to be available and active by 2027, protecting both the local environment, population and economy. Practically, this means the implementation of either desalination or water reuse options. Water reuse options provide pragmatic solutions, environmentally and financially, but public perceptions remain mixed. A lack of support might inhibit potential future uptake. Poor public perception is a global challenge and well documented with key phrases such as “Toilet to Tap” (Australia) and “Tapping Toilet Water” (USA). This challenge reiterates the need for rigour in respect to both technical approaches to treatment for public health and human interactions.

This project will assess the suitability and acceptability of water reuse options for future sustainable water sources. The study will initially utilise the UKs timetabled option for planned advanced water reuse sources as case studies to help address the global challenge of water scarcity in response to excessive consumption and a shortfall in freshwater resources. This study will assess the benefits and potential of low financial and carbon cost options (e.g. ozone-biofiltration) which can be implemented globally.

Abstractable water invariably is contaminated with a variety of chemical and biological substances. Treatment of the water for reuse, while removing many of these, can generate disinfection by-products (DPBs) which can have consequences for human health. Monitoring of water quality will be critical as greater amounts of water are recycled/re-used. Therefore, it is essential that water quality is regularly monitored with a series of appropriate and affordable tests. This project aims to assess a number of low-cost treatment technologies using chemical, microbiological and mammalian cell-based toxicity assays, helping to inform both design and monitoring approaches for water companies and regulators.

Public perceptions of water reuse are critical to ensure success. Involving the community at the conception of the scheme is recognised as a strategy to improve this and obtain long-term public support. Public perceptions, interaction and trust of water sources will be assessed (using meta-review of practices and focus groups involving community, environmental groups and other identified stakeholders) to inform future engagement and selection of water reuse approaches.

The student will join a group actively researching in this area and be trained in all treatment technologies, assays and engaging with established partners in Canada, USA and Australia.


Funding Notes

The studentship is for 3 years and consists of a full stipend, tuition fees and a travel bursary for participation by the students and supervisors in cohort building and training events related to the DTA Future Societies network programme.
Anticipated start date is 01 October 2021.
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