Public Perceptions of Fresh Water Issues

by Robert E. O'Connor, Pennsylvania State Univ, University Park, United States,
Richard J. Bord, Pennsylvania State Univ, University Park, United States,
Ann Fisher, Pennsylvania State Univ, University Park, United States,



Document Type: Proceeding Paper

Part of: Risk-Based Decision Making in Water Resources VI

Abstract: Risk management takes place in a context of public perceptions of fresh water quality, quantity, and availability. Regardless of their consistency or inconsistency with expert opinions, public perceptions can, and often do, influence policy decisions. This paper reports our review of more than 500 studies of what Americans believe about fresh water quality, quantity, and availability. Most people view quality problems as serious and getting worse, regardless of the source (surface water or ground water) or use (such as for drinking, agriculture, or recreation). Although people in the East only care about water quantity during drought periods, Westerners are frequently worried. Research on perceptions of risk to fresh water quality, quantity, and availability should be placed in the context of comparative risk perceptions, should measure salience, and would benefit from attention to policy options.

Subject Headings: Water quality | Risk management | Water shortage | Fresh water | Water resources | Public health and safety

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