Abstract

Shandong is a typical region in northern China that is experiencing a serious shortage of water resources. To tackle the water resources shortage, Shandong is striving to develop alternative water resources, in addition to efficiently utilizing regular water resources, of which, the utilization of reclaimed water plays a major role. However, the successful implementation of the reclaimed water projects heavily depends on public perception and a positive public attitude toward reclaimed water. This study examines public perception of water resources and public attitude toward reclaimed water in Shandong through a questionnaire survey. The results indicate that the public lacks a general understanding of water resources in Shandong. The public positively accepts using reclaimed water for all 12 purposes examined. However, their receptivity of some of the purposes is relatively weak, especially with respect to domestic potable water. Graphical analysis results indicate that older people and people with higher educational levels are more willing to accept reclaimed water. Finally, this study recommends a group of people as the a priori target to improve public receptivity. The study could also provide a valuable reference for other regions of China and developing countries facing similar advancements in the development of reclaimed water.

INTRODUCTION

Shandong province is located in the northern region of China and represents approximately 1.64% of the national land area and 7.16% of the national population (Statistical Yearbook of Shandong Province in China 2016). According to the water resource report from Shandong, the total amount of water resources is 16.84 billion m3, whereas the total water use throughout the province reached 21.28 billion m3 in 2015 (Bulletin of Water Resources in Shandong 2015). The water resource per capita in Shandong is 171.05 m3, accounting for only 8.56% of the national average, whereas the water use per capita across the province approaches 216.07 m3, which is much less than the national average of 447 m3 (Bulletin of Water Resources in Shandong 2015). To tackle the serious disparity between water resource supply and demand, Shandong province has made efforts to efficiently use regular water resources (i.e., surface and ground water resources); in addition, water diversion and alternative water resources (such as reclaimed water, seawater desalination, and household-level rainwater harvesting) have been developed to supply water to Shandong. Overuse of regular water resources, especially over-exploiting ground water resources, has been found to be a major cause of serious hazards, such as land subsidence and water quality deterioration (Han 1998). Thus, water diversion and alternative water resources are becoming increasingly necessary in the water resource supply framework. Water diversion projects have aimed to transfer water from the Yellow River for various needs in Shandong since before 2014. Such water diversion projects inevitably require large capital investments and considerable project time. Of the alternative water resources currently used in Shandong, 78% is from reclaimed water (Bulletin of Water Resources in Shandong 2015). The desalination of seawater, although its water source is stable and plentiful, requires advanced technology, high cost (including capital, operation, and maintenance costs), and large energy consumption (Zheng et al. 2014). Household-level rainwater collection can provide limited additional water resources because of the moderate climate in Shandong, with long-term annual precipitation of 679 mm (Bulletin of Water Resources in Shandong 2015). Reclaimed water, whose development requires less cost and shorter time, could be a promising alternative water resource. According to statistics provided by the Water Resource Management Center, Ministry of Water Resources, China, reclaimed water contributed to almost 2.81% of Shandong's total water use in 2015 (Annual Report of Water Resources Management 2015).

Reclaimed water shows great potential in Shandong, and the government has given much attention to its development. In 2011, Shandong required all cities and counties across the province to integrate reclaimed water into the local water resource allocation framework. Before 2015, 243 wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) with a capacity of 1,1291,900 m3/d, 136 water reclamation plants with a capacity of 5,183,000 m3/d, and a 912.4 km reclaimed water delivery pipeline were constructed in Shandong (Annual Report of Water Resources Management 2015).

Despite this progress, the development of reclaimed water use in Shandong is growing slowly, and it is under-utilized. Many factors affect the use of reclaimed water, among which a fairly important one is public knowledge and acceptability of reclaimed water (Hartley 2006; Hurlimann & Dolnicar 2010a). No water policy can play a major role if there is public resistance toward its adoption. For example, in 1994, San Diego, California, USA, suggested treating municipal wastewater with advanced technologies, such as coagulation-precipitation and microfiltration, to reuse the treated water as a part of the urban water resource. Although the suggestion was favored by technical experts and approved by the California Department of Health Services, the program was never implemented due to public opposition and surrounding controversy (Hartley 2006). Another reported example is the case of Toowoomba, Australia. In 2006, the Toowoomba government planned to implement an indirect potable wastewater reuse scheme to supply additional water to the city, and the residents in Toowoomba were invited to vote on a referendum concerning whether the scheme should be implemented. After intense campaigning on both sides of the referendum debate, Toowoomba residents voted against the proposal, and the plan failed to materialize (Hurlimann & Dolnicar 2010a). Reclaimed water use in other developed countries has also faced similar challenges (Hurlimann & McKay 2004; Hartley 2006). Therefore, reclaimed water projects require feasible technologies and reasonable economic investments, and concurrently increased populations’ awareness and acceptance of reclaimed water reuse.

A great many studies regarding public perception and acceptability of reclaimed water or recycled wastewater have been conducted across a wide range of locations outside of China, including in the USA (e.g., Bruvold & Ward 1970; Bruvold 1988; Ormerod & Scott 2013), Australia (e.g., Hurlimann & Dolnicar 2010b; Fielding et al. 2015), the UK (e.g., Jeffrey & Jefferson 2003; Aitken et al. 2014), and the Middle East (e.g., Alhumoud & Madzikanda 2010). Regardless of location, they have consistently reached the same conclusion: that public receptivity is crucial to the successful implementation of reclaimed water projects. Traditional approaches to the feasibility and implementation of reclaimed water use projects have all focused on technological solutions, excluding social factors. Pioneering studies by Bruvold first reported negative public attitudes toward reclaimed water use (Bruvold & Ward 1970; Bruvold 1988). Bruvold & Ward (1970) investigated the public acceptability of renovated wastewater and noted that there is a need to investigate the actual usage of renovated wastewater and the mechanism by which it relates to all stakeholders’ perceived knowledge and attitudes. Bruvold (1988) reiterated that guidance for innovative water reuse is not as simple as first believed and reported that there are four factors affecting public opinion toward actual water reuse options, which include water conservation, health protection, treatment and distribution costs, and environmental enhancement. Based on the results of a UK survey, Jeffrey & Jefferson (2003) found that there is broad willingness to accept in-house water recycling as long as public health is not compromised. Furthermore, several studies have been carried out to identify the sociodemographic factors that play important roles in affecting public acceptability toward recycled water use (e.g., McKay & Hurlimann 2003; Dolnicar & Schafer 2009; Fielding et al. 2015). McKay & Hurlimann (2003) found that the greatest opposition to reclaimed water use schemes is from people 50 years and older, whereas Dolnicar & Schafer (2009) showed that strong accepters of recycled and desalinated water are likely to be older and male. Moreover, Dolnicar & Hurlimann (2010) summarized that acceptability is higher for men and those with a higher education level. Robinson et al. (2005) and Hartley (2003) found that the main opposition was from long-term residents and low-income people in the United States, respectively. Abu-madi (2004) suggested that religion could provide an incentive to use reclaimed water.

In contrast, at present, there are few studies conducted in China regarding public perception and perceptivity toward reclaimed water use (Zhang et al. 2012), although there are some reports investigating public involvement and consciousness regarding the conservation of water resources (Wang 2002), water pollution control (Cai & Zhang 2007), and environmental protection (Yan et al. 2010). When extending the findings of surveys conducted elsewhere to China, cultural, traditional, and social factors could play important roles in reshaping public perception and willingness toward reclaimed water. This aspect was confirmed by a recent study by Hurlimann & Dolnicar (2016), who surveyed the public acceptance and perception of reclaimed water in nine different countries and found that various locations associated with diverse social and cultural contexts result in obviously different willingness toward reclaimed water use. Therefore, an investigation of public perception and acceptance toward reclaimed water in China is necessary to identify specifics of acceptance toward reclaimed water in China. This is the purpose of this study. A questionnaire survey, as a common way to explore public knowledge and awareness toward social phenomena, is conducted in this study, as was done by many prior studies (e.g., Dolnicar & Schafer 2009; Zhang et al. 2012; Fielding et al. 2015; Hurlimann & Dolnicar 2016). Shandong province is chosen to be the surveyed site based on the following facts. According to statistical data provided by the Water Resources Management Center, Ministry of Water Resources, China, Shandong's reclaimed water utilization quantity ranked second in provincial reclaimed water use across China in 2015 (Annual Report of Water Resources Management 2015), only behind Beijing; compared with Beijing, Shandong has much more land area and a much larger population, for which there may exist comparatively complicated traditions and social contexts. We expect that the results in Shandong province could not only contribute a better understanding of the present status of people's willingness to use reclaimed water in Shandong but also provide a valuable reference for policy-makers to understand the current perceived knowledge and attitudes of the public toward reclaimed water use in other regions in China. Furthermore, this study could contribute a framework that can be used in other parts of China to investigate the general perception and attitudes toward reclaimed water.

This paper is arranged as follows. The ‘Materials and methods’ section briefly introduces the sociodemographic characteristics of the respondents, how the questionnaire was developed, and how public receptivity could be quantitatively estimated. Survey results regarding public knowledge on water resources and attitude toward reclaimed water are presented in the ‘Results and discussion’ section. This section further discusses the effects of sociodemographic backgrounds on knowledge of water resources and attitude toward reclaimed water. Finally, some simple suggestions and conclusions are drawn in the ‘Suggestions and conclusions’ section.

MATERIALS AND METHODS

Sociodemographic characteristic of the respondents

The survey was carried out by interviewing respondents residing in Shandong province, face to face. in 2016. Four surveys were organized to cover 13 of the 17 cities in Shandong province based on locations and population characteristics. Figure 1 shows the geographical locations of these 13 cities. For each city, the number of respondents was arranged to be 200, and in total, 2,600 persons participated in the survey. This number is comparable to the survey sample number adopted in prior studies, such as over 300 in Jeffrey & Jefferson (2003); 1,000 in Dolnicar & Schafer (2009); 1,495 in Hurlimann & Dolnicar (2010b); 2,000 in Aitken et al. (2014); 1,200 Australian participants in Fielding et al. (2015); and 1,800 in Hurlimann & Dolnicar (2016). The sociodemographic characteristics of all respondents in this study can be found in Table 1. This survey interviewed Shandong respondents of different gender, age, educational level, and monthly income. According to the Shandong Statistical Yearbook in 2016, 50.89% of the population are male, and females make up 49.11%; 16.6% of the population are aged between 0 and 14 years old, 71.2% are between 15 and 64 years old, and the remaining 12.2% people are over 65 years old. The average monthly resident income throughout the province is 4,318.75 RMB (Statistical Yearbook of Shandong Province in China 2016). To guarantee that the survey sample was representative of the entire Shandong province, interviews were randomly distributed in different regions in each city, including urban and rural regions in public and residential areas. The survey sample, although its sociodemographic attributes do not precisely match those of the entire Shandong province, is still expected to be reasonably representative in this study.

Table 1

Sociodemographic characteristics of the surveyed respondents

Factors 
Gender 
 Male 58.68 
 Female 41.32 
Age 
  ≤20 21.69 
 21–30 49.11 
 31–40 16.60 
 41–50 8.81 
  >51 3.80 
Educational level 
 High school and under 17.89 
 Associate degree 16.75 
 Undergraduate 59.29 
 Master and doctor degree 6.08 
Occupation 
 Unemployed 5.47 
 Private company 32.51 
 Self-employed 10.44 
 Official and institutional worker 12.50 
 Students 28.52 
 Others 10.56 
Monthly income (RMB) 
  <2,000 29.78 
 2,001–4,000 38.25 
 4,001–6,000 20.24 
 6,001–8,000 6.08 
  >8,001 5.62 
Factors 
Gender 
 Male 58.68 
 Female 41.32 
Age 
  ≤20 21.69 
 21–30 49.11 
 31–40 16.60 
 41–50 8.81 
  >51 3.80 
Educational level 
 High school and under 17.89 
 Associate degree 16.75 
 Undergraduate 59.29 
 Master and doctor degree 6.08 
Occupation 
 Unemployed 5.47 
 Private company 32.51 
 Self-employed 10.44 
 Official and institutional worker 12.50 
 Students 28.52 
 Others 10.56 
Monthly income (RMB) 
  <2,000 29.78 
 2,001–4,000 38.25 
 4,001–6,000 20.24 
 6,001–8,000 6.08 
  >8,001 5.62 
Figure 1

Geographic locations of the survey cities in Shandong province, China.

Figure 1

Geographic locations of the survey cities in Shandong province, China.

Questionnaire

Referring to previous studies regarding public attitude toward reclaimed water in other countries (Dolnicar & Schafer 2009; Gu et al. 2015; Hurlimann & Dolnicar 2016) and the status of the development of reclaimed water in Shandong (Bulletin of Water Resources in Shandong 2015), the questionnaire was designed to consist of three segments (Segment I, Segment II, and Segment III). There are 36 questions contained in this questionnaire. All contents of the questionnaire can be found in the Appendix (available with the online version of this paper). The first segment (Segment I) explores social backgrounds of all respondents participating in this survey, the second segment (Segment II) investigates public knowledge about the condition of water resources and water use behavior in Shandong, and the last segment (Segment III) probes people's willingness to use reclaimed water for various purposes.

The first five questions (questions No. 1 to No. 5), given in Segment I, investigate the basic sociodemographic attributes of all participants, including gender, age, educational level and monthly income. This information was used to determine whether the respondents were representative of the entire Shandong province and to study the role that these sociodemographic factors play in public knowledge and attitude.

The next five questions (questions No. 6 to No. 10), given in Segment II, test the respondent's perceived knowledge on the main water resource, the biggest water user, the condition of the water shortage, the largest sewage source, and the area in which wastewater is primarily discharged, respectively. The respondent's understanding of reclaimed water is investigated in questions No. 11 to No. 15, including whether and how the public know of reclaimed water and whether they use it in daily life. Questions No. 16 to No. 18 examine the water use behaviors of the respondent, including the amount of water the family uses monthly, which behavior consumes the most water in the family, and whether or not the respondent takes water conservation measures in daily life. The answers to most of these questions have multiple choices, except questions No. 11, 13–15, and 18, for which the choice is a simple ‘Yes/No’ response. With respect to questions No. 6–10 and 16, we also provide the additional choice of ‘Do not know’, given that some respondents may know little about water resources and water use behaviors in daily life and could not choose any of the given answers.

Questions No. 19 to No. 20 in Segment III ask about the respondent's receptivity toward using reclaimed water and rainwater harvesting in daily life. Based on a report entitled ‘The reuse of urban recycling water – Classified standard’ (GB/T 18919-2002) released by the Chinese government, this questionnaire chooses 12 kinds of reclaimed water uses to investigate the attitude of the respondents in the subsequent 12 questions (questions No. 21 to No. 32). These uses include domestic potable and non-potable water, fountain water, landscape environment water, toilet flushing water, car washing water, road dust flushing water, discharging reclaimed water for supplementing rivers/lakes, water for firefighting purposes, water for groundwater recharging, agricultural irrigation water and industrial cooling water. For each question, four different choices are provided for the respondent: ‘Completely accept’, ‘Accept’, ‘Unacceptable’, and ‘No comment’. Questions No. 33 and 34 in Segment III probe whether the public is willing to pay for sewage treatment and accept the adjusted water price. To explore the public awareness of the present price mechanism of tap water and reclaimed water, this questionnaire finally presented two questions (questions No. 35 and 36), also in Segment III, i.e., ‘How do you evaluate the present price of tap water in Shandong?’ and ‘What percent do you think is a reasonable ratio for the price of reclaimed water to tap water?’ This investigation could be valuable for policy-makers to better promote the development of reclaimed water in Shandong through pricing schemes. Five answer choices are provided for question No. 35: ‘Cheap’, ‘Reasonable’, ‘A little expensive’, ‘Very expensive’, and ‘Do not know water price’. With respect to question No. 36, four choices, namely, 20%, 30%, 40%, and 50%, were provided for respondents to choose in this study.

Before interviewing, we carried out a pre-test to determine the reliability of the questionnaire. A simple analysis indicates that the contents in the questionnaire are consistent and can provide valid and reliable information (Gu et al. 2015). During the interview, we patiently and neutrally explained the meaning of each question and answer to the respondents so that they could answer the questions clearly and precisely, as they intended to. For each question, the respondents could choose only one answer from the provided answer choices.

Data analysis

All survey data were tabulated in Excel software and SPSS software was further adopted to statistically analyze the data. To effectively estimate the average degree of acceptability of the respondents toward using reclaimed water (questions No. 19 to No. 32), a scaled factor was assigned to each category of willingness. With respect to each question, four scaled factors of ‘4’, ‘3’, ‘2’, and ‘1’ were assigned to the four categories of ‘Completely accept’, ‘Accept’, ‘Unacceptable’, and ‘No comment’, respectively (Zhang et al. 2012). For the ith question, the overall public willingness to accept using reclaimed water, Wi, could be quantitatively estimated to be the weighted average of the answers as follows, as was done by some studies (Zhang et al. 2012; Gu et al. 2015):  
formula
(1)
where Si1, Si2, Si3, and Si4 are the number of respondents choosing the first (‘Completely accept’), the second (‘Accept’), the third (‘Unacceptable’), and the fourth (‘No comment’) answers, respectively. Here, Equation (1) provides a quantitative estimation of the public's awareness toward reclaimed water use and is used only in this study as a basis for comparing different degrees of acceptability toward using reclaimed water for various purposes.

RESULTS AND DISCUSSION

The public's knowledge of water resources in Shandong

Table 2 presents a comparison between the respondents’ knowledge of water resources and the correct answers; 30.46% and 30.38% of the respondents think that diverted water from the Yellow River and rivers and reservoirs across the province supply the main water resource in Shandong, respectively. However, among the four kinds of water sources, groundwater actually provides the largest amount of water resource for consumption (Bulletin of Water Resources in Shandong 2015). With respect to the biggest water user, 35.43% of the participants realize that agricultural irrigation consumes the largest amount of water resources, which is accurate (Bulletin of Water Resources in Shandong 2015). This may be because most people have the impression that Shandong is typically an agricultural province across China, and its farmland area and number of farmers reached 7.62 × 1010 m2 and 5.46 × 107, respectively, in 2014 (Statistical yearbook of Shandong 2016). Most people (63.73%) understand that Shandong is experiencing a water shortage, whereas only a small number (9.15%) realize the correct situation that there is a severe water shortage in the province. It is surprising that 19.33% of the respondents even believe that there is no water shortage in the province. This suggests that much effort is needed by the government in order to improve the public's consciousness of the present condition of water resources, for example, through a series of measures, such as propaganda and education activities. With respect to the largest sewage source, the majority of the respondents (83.4%) correctly understood that industry produces the largest amount of sewage in Shandong, since industry in Shandong is well known to be rapidly developing. Approximately 48.73% and 24.95% of people think the sewage is primarily discharged to rivers/lakes and groundwater, respectively, which is inconsistent with the correct answer that sewage is certainly primarily discharged to WWTPs. Only 18.19% of the respondents provided the correct response. In total, the survey results suggest that people lack a general knowledge of water resources in Shandong.

Table 2

Responses to questions on water resources in Shandong

Question
 
The majority's answer
 
Correct answer
 
Is the majority correct? 
No. Content Content Content 
Main water source Yellow River water 30.46 Groundwater 26.36 No 
Main water source Rivers and reservoirs 30.38 Groundwater 26.36 No 
Main water source Groundwater 26.36 Groundwater 26.36 No 
The biggest water user Agricultural irrigation 35.43 Agricultural irrigation 35.43 Yes 
The biggest water user Domestic living 14.85 Agricultural irrigation 35.43 Yes 
The condition of water resources Shortage 63.73 Serious shortage 9.15 No 
The condition of water resources No shortage 19.33 Serious shortage 9.15 No 
The condition of water resources Serious shortage 9.15 Serious shortage 9.15 No 
The largest sewage source Industry effluent 83.40 Industry effluent 83.40 Yes 
The largest sewage source Urban domestic sewage 13.29 Industry effluent 83.40 Yes 
10 Where is the sewage primarily discharged to? Rivers or lakes 48.73 WWTP 18.19 No 
10 Where is the sewage primarily discharged to? Groundwater 24.95 WWTP 18.19 No 
10 Where is the sewage primarily discharged to? WWTP 18.19 WWTP 18.19 No 
Question
 
The majority's answer
 
Correct answer
 
Is the majority correct? 
No. Content Content Content 
Main water source Yellow River water 30.46 Groundwater 26.36 No 
Main water source Rivers and reservoirs 30.38 Groundwater 26.36 No 
Main water source Groundwater 26.36 Groundwater 26.36 No 
The biggest water user Agricultural irrigation 35.43 Agricultural irrigation 35.43 Yes 
The biggest water user Domestic living 14.85 Agricultural irrigation 35.43 Yes 
The condition of water resources Shortage 63.73 Serious shortage 9.15 No 
The condition of water resources No shortage 19.33 Serious shortage 9.15 No 
The condition of water resources Serious shortage 9.15 Serious shortage 9.15 No 
The largest sewage source Industry effluent 83.40 Industry effluent 83.40 Yes 
The largest sewage source Urban domestic sewage 13.29 Industry effluent 83.40 Yes 
10 Where is the sewage primarily discharged to? Rivers or lakes 48.73 WWTP 18.19 No 
10 Where is the sewage primarily discharged to? Groundwater 24.95 WWTP 18.19 No 
10 Where is the sewage primarily discharged to? WWTP 18.19 WWTP 18.19 No 

All participant responses to questions about water use behavior are shown in Figure 2. Most people (63%) are aware of reclaimed water (Figure 2(a)), and public media, such as television and broadcasts, play a dominant role (75%) (Figure 2(b)). The large majority of the respondents (93%) approve of the benefits of using reclaimed water (Figure 2(c)). However, most respondents (69%) do not use reclaimed water in their daily life (Figure 2(e)). This may be because an insufficient amount of reclaimed water has been delivered to end users in Shandong to account for their various demands. Additionally, most respondents (65%) are aware of harvesting rainwater by virtue of some means (Figure 2(d)). As Figure 2(f) shows, half of the participants use less than 5 tons of water per month in their household, 23% of families report the use of 5 to 10 tons of water per month, and 22% of people do not know their actual amount of water use. When mentioning the question ‘Which family behavior consumes the most water?’ 85% of people choose laundry and washing, and 10% report cooking (Figure 2(g)). Additionally, most people (86%) take some kind of water conservation measure in their daily life, as shown in Figure 2(h).

Figure 2

Responses to questions on reclaimed water and water use behavior in Shandong: (a) Are you aware of reclaimed water? (question No. 11). (b) How are you aware of reclaimed water? (question No. 12). (c) Is reclaimed water useful? (question No. 13). (d) Are you aware of harvesting rainwater for use? (question No. 14). (e) Do you use reclaimed water in your daily life? (question No. 15). (f) How much water does your family use monthly? (question No. 16). (g) Which behavior consumes the most water in the family (question No. 17). (h) Do you take water conservation measures in daily life (question No. 18).

Figure 2

Responses to questions on reclaimed water and water use behavior in Shandong: (a) Are you aware of reclaimed water? (question No. 11). (b) How are you aware of reclaimed water? (question No. 12). (c) Is reclaimed water useful? (question No. 13). (d) Are you aware of harvesting rainwater for use? (question No. 14). (e) Do you use reclaimed water in your daily life? (question No. 15). (f) How much water does your family use monthly? (question No. 16). (g) Which behavior consumes the most water in the family (question No. 17). (h) Do you take water conservation measures in daily life (question No. 18).

Public receptivity toward reclaimed water

Respondent answers to questions about using reclaimed water for 12 purposes are summarized in Table 3. The seventh column in this table gives the values of the overall public willingness, calculated using Equation (1), and the average value of the overall public willingness in the last column was obtained by averaging the overall public willingness values across questions No. 19 to No. 32.

Table 3

Responses to questions about reclaimed water used for various purposes in Shandong (unit: %)

Question number Application Completely accept Accept Unacceptable No comment Overall public willingness The average value of overall public willingness 
19 Use reclaimed water 15.31 66.27 9.95 8.47 2.88 2.98 
20 Accept rainwater harvesting reuse 19.26 68.70 6.95 5.09 3.02 
21 Domestic potable water 7.22 23.32 58.75 10.71 2.27 
22 Domestic non-potable water 15.65 68.97 10.44 4.94 2.95 
23 Fountains 25.07 66.50 5.24 3.19 3.13 
24 Landscape environment purpose 28.18 65.44 3.80 2.58 3.19 
25 Toilet flushing 33.31 61.79 3.19 1.71 3.27 
26 Car washing 28.52 61.83 6.68 2.96 3.16 
27 Road dust flushing 32.70 60.69 4.52 2.09 3.24 
28 Supplementing rivers/lakes 15.69 50.13 25.03 9.15 2.72 
29 Firefighting purpose 28.94 64.22 3.76 3.08 3.19 
30 Groundwater recharge 15.91 51.01 24.84 8.24 2.75 
31 Agricultural irrigation 19.56 60.96 13.60 5.89 2.94 
32 Industry cooling water purpose 23.62 63.01 7.10 6.27 3.04 
33 Pay for sewage treatment 10.75 59.21 18.65 11.39 2.69  
34 Accept water price reform 10.90 54.58 17.47 17.05 2.59  
Question number Application Completely accept Accept Unacceptable No comment Overall public willingness The average value of overall public willingness 
19 Use reclaimed water 15.31 66.27 9.95 8.47 2.88 2.98 
20 Accept rainwater harvesting reuse 19.26 68.70 6.95 5.09 3.02 
21 Domestic potable water 7.22 23.32 58.75 10.71 2.27 
22 Domestic non-potable water 15.65 68.97 10.44 4.94 2.95 
23 Fountains 25.07 66.50 5.24 3.19 3.13 
24 Landscape environment purpose 28.18 65.44 3.80 2.58 3.19 
25 Toilet flushing 33.31 61.79 3.19 1.71 3.27 
26 Car washing 28.52 61.83 6.68 2.96 3.16 
27 Road dust flushing 32.70 60.69 4.52 2.09 3.24 
28 Supplementing rivers/lakes 15.69 50.13 25.03 9.15 2.72 
29 Firefighting purpose 28.94 64.22 3.76 3.08 3.19 
30 Groundwater recharge 15.91 51.01 24.84 8.24 2.75 
31 Agricultural irrigation 19.56 60.96 13.60 5.89 2.94 
32 Industry cooling water purpose 23.62 63.01 7.10 6.27 3.04 
33 Pay for sewage treatment 10.75 59.21 18.65 11.39 2.69  
34 Accept water price reform 10.90 54.58 17.47 17.05 2.59  

The overall public willingness for accepting all the reclaimed water purposes have an average value of 2.98, indicating, in general, that the public can positively accept reclaimed water. Among all 12 purposes, seven applications have public willingness values larger than 3, and the remaining five applications have public willingness values less than 3. The respondents are much more willing to use reclaimed water for toilet flushing, road dust flushing, landscape environment purposes, and firefighting, followed by car washing, fountains, and industrial cooling. In contrast, the public are more concerned about reclaimed water in agricultural irrigation, domestic non-potable water, groundwater recharge, and supplementing rivers/lakes. This may be because there is a high water quality standard for these applications (Yi et al. 2011; Lyu et al. 2016). Using reclaimed water that does not satisfy water quality requirements will lead to environmental or health problems (Li et al. 2015; Lyu et al. 2016).

The lowest overall public willingness (i.e., 2.27) is reached when reclaimed water is used for domestic potable water. In terms of domestic potable and non-potable uses of reclaimed water (see the fourth and fifth rows of Table 3), the difference is remarkable. Approximately 15.65% of the respondents chose to completely accept reclaimed water as domestic non-potable water, most of them (68.97%) can accept it, and only 10.44% showed an unacceptable attitude. However, for domestic potable water purposes, only 7.22% of people can completely accept it, 23.32% could accept it, and more than half (58.75%) refuse to accept this kind of use. The percentage of respondents who accept reclaimed water (i.e., 23.32%) is the lowest among the category of ‘Accept’, and 58.75% is the highest among the category of ‘Unacceptable’ in Table 3. These results indicate that public receptivity toward reclaimed water reduces greatly when reclaimed water has close contact with the human body, which is consistent with previous findings (Zhang et al. 2012; Fielding et al. 2015; Hurlimann & Dolnicar 2016).

Attitudes of the respondents toward paying for sewage treatment and accepting an adjustment in water price (questions No. 33 and 34) are also presented in the last two rows of Table 3. More than half of the respondents (59.21%) are willing to pay for sewage treatment required for the production of reclaimed water, with 10.75% completely agreeing with paying for it. The people who do not accept to pay the fee accounts for 18.65%. Approximately 54.58% of the public are willing to accept an adjustment in water price, with 10.9% completely accepting it, and 17.47% opposing it. Respondent answers to the question about the present price of tap water in Shandong (question No. 35) can be found in Figure 3(a); 44% of the respondents think that the present water price is reasonable, and 28% feel the price is a little expensive. This indicates that the people in Shandong generally slightly undervalue the cost of tap water. It is also worth noting that 21% of the public do not know the water price. This suggests that more effort needs to be made by governmental managers to effectively promote the development of reclaimed water through water price adjustments. Figure 3(b) presents the responses to the question of what percent is a reasonable price ratio of reclaimed water and tap water (question No. 36). Approximately 36% of the respondents reasonably think that the price of reclaimed water should be 20% of that of tap water, and 37% chose 30%. People choosing 40% and 50% account for 13% and 14%, respectively. This suggests that people in Shandong generally underestimate the value and cost of reclaimed water.

Figure 3

Responses to questions on the present price of tap water and reclaimed water in Shandong. (a) How do you evaluate the present price of tap water? (question No. 35). (b) What percent do you think is a reasonable ratio for the price of reclaimed water to tap water?’ (question No. 36).

Figure 3

Responses to questions on the present price of tap water and reclaimed water in Shandong. (a) How do you evaluate the present price of tap water? (question No. 35). (b) What percent do you think is a reasonable ratio for the price of reclaimed water to tap water?’ (question No. 36).

The relationship between sociodemographic background and knowledge of water resources

The relationship between sociodemographic attributes of the respondents and their knowledge of water resources in Shandong can be explored through graphical analysis. The responses to questions No. 6 to No. 10 and No. 15 are presented here to demonstrate the impact of sociodemographic attributes of the respondents on their knowledge, as shown in Figures 48. The ‘Percent (%)’ value in the vertical axis of every figure is obtained by dividing the number of respondents (with the mentioned sociodemographic background) who correctly answer the question by the total number of the surveyed respondents (with the mentioned sociodemographic background). Figure 4 illustrates the responses to selected questions by different gender groups. Males seem slightly more knowledgeable than females regarding water resources, except for the question concerning the primary discharge area of sewage, whereas females are slightly more likely to use reclaimed water in daily life than males. The relationship between age of the respondent and their knowledge is illustrated in Figure 5. Younger people (under 20 years old) and old people (41–50 years old) are less likely to know the main water source in Shandong, compared with the other age groups, and there are few differences among the age groups of 21–30 years and 31–40 years and the age group older than 51 years. Older people (above 51 years) are clearly the most knowledgeable about the biggest water user in Shandong among all respondents; however, there are no large differences among the other age groups, with the age group of 31–40 years being more knowledgeable than the other three groups. With respect to the present condition of the water shortage, there is a trend that the older the respondent, the more conscious they are of the serious water shortage in Shandong, except for the age group of 41–50 years. It was observed that the older the respondent, the less knowledgeable they were about the largest sewage source, except for the age group under 20 years. For the question about the primary discharge area of sewage, there is a slight trend that the older the respondent, the less likely they are to know, although the differences among the age groups of 21–30 years, 31–40 years, and 41–50 years are not remarkable. Additionally, it could be found that mid-aged people (31–40 years) are the most unlikely to use reclaimed water in daily life among all respondents, and older people (41–50 years and >51 years) show a larger willingness than young people (21–30 years and <20 years) to use reclaimed water.

Figure 4

Responses to selected questions for each gender group in Shandong.

Figure 4

Responses to selected questions for each gender group in Shandong.

Figure 5

Responses to selected questions for each age group in Shandong.

Figure 5

Responses to selected questions for each age group in Shandong.

Figure 6

Responses to selected questions for each educational level group in Shandong.

Figure 6

Responses to selected questions for each educational level group in Shandong.

Figure 7

Responses to selected questions for each occupational group in Shandong.

Figure 7

Responses to selected questions for each occupational group in Shandong.

Figure 8

Responses to selected questions for each monthly income group in Shandong.

Figure 8

Responses to selected questions for each monthly income group in Shandong.

Figure 6 demonstrates the relationship between the educational level of the respondent and their knowledge. Undergraduates are more knowledgeable about the main water source in Shandong; however, the differences among the other three educational levels are not obvious. People of mid-educational level (associate and undergraduate degrees) are less likely to know the biggest water user in Shandong than people of high (masters or doctorate degrees) and low (high school and under high school qualifications) educational level. Concerning the present condition of the water shortage, respondents holding a masters or doctorate degree are the most conscious of the serious water shortage occurring in Shandong among all respondents, and there are no large differences among the other three educational level groups. It could be clearly observed that the higher the educational level of the respondent, the less knowledgeable they are about the largest sewage source in Shandong. It could be found that people holding masters or doctorate degrees and associate degrees are more likely to know where sewage is primarily discharged than the other groups, with undergraduates presenting as the least knowledgeable. Additionally, people with high school qualifications show the least willingness to use reclaimed water among all respondents, and there are no large differences among the other three groups.

It could be concluded from Figure 7 that the occupations of the respondents are weakly related to their knowledge of water resources in Shandong. People working at private companies are the most knowledgeable about the main water source among all occupational groups, followed by people with other occupations and official and institutional workers, and there are no large differences among the other three occupational groups. Unemployed people are the most likely to know the biggest water user, followed by official and institutional workers and people with other occupations, and there are no obvious differences among the other three occupational groups. Regarding the present condition of the water shortage, students are the least conscious of the serious water shortage among all respondents, whereas people with other occupations show the largest consciousness. For the largest sewage source, official and institutional workers are the most knowledgeable, followed by self-employed people, and people with other occupations are the least knowledgeable. People with other occupations are the most knowledgeable about the area in which sewage is primarily discharged among all respondents, whereas unemployed people and official and institutional workers are the least likely to know. Additionally, unemployed people are the most willing to use reclaimed water in daily life among all respondents, whereas official and institutional workers show the least willingness. There are no large differences among the other four occupational groups.

Figure 8 illustrates the relationship between monthly income of the respondent and their knowledge of water resources in Shandong. It could be found that the higher the income of the respondent, the more knowledgeable they are about the main water source in Shandong, except for the higher income group that earns more than 8,000 RMB. With respect to the biggest water user, in terms of the three groups of 2,000–4,000 RMB, 4,000–6,000 RMB, and 6,000–8,000 RMB, the people with high monthly incomes are more knowledgeable. Regarding the present condition of the water shortage, there is an evident trend in which respondents with a higher monthly income are more conscious of the serious water shortage in Shandong. For the largest sewage source, mid-income respondents (4,000–6,000 RMB) are the most knowledgeable among all people, followed by people with incomes higher than 8,000 RMB, with those people with incomes of 2,000–4,000 RMB being the least likely to know. When asked the area in which sewage is primarily discharged, people with incomes higher than 8,000 RMB are the most knowledgeable among all respondents, whereas mid-income people (4,000–6,000 RMB) are the least knowledgeable, and there are no obvious differences among the other three monthly income groups. Additionally, lower income people (<2,000 RMB) are the most willing to use reclaimed water in daily life, followed by low-income people (2,000–4,000 RMB), with other respondents showing almost the same degree of willingness.

The relationship between sociodemographic background and attitude toward the use of reclaimed water

Graphical analysis was employed to investigate the relationship between the sociodemographic background of the respondent and their receptivity toward the use of reclaimed water. Here, those uses of reclaimed water with an overall public willingness larger than three are only selected to demonstrate the relationships between the gender, age, educational level, occupation, and monthly income of the respondent, respectively, and their receptivity, as shown in Figures 913. The ‘Percent (%)’ value in the vertical axis of every figure is obtained by dividing the number of respondents (with the mentioned sociodemographic background) who accept the use of reclaimed water by the total number of the surveyed respondents (with the mentioned sociodemographic background).

Figure 9

Public receptivity toward reclaimed water uses with overall public willingness values larger than 3 for each gender group in Shandong.

Figure 9

Public receptivity toward reclaimed water uses with overall public willingness values larger than 3 for each gender group in Shandong.

Figure 10

Public receptivity toward reclaimed water uses with overall public willingness values larger than 3 for each age group in Shandong.

Figure 10

Public receptivity toward reclaimed water uses with overall public willingness values larger than 3 for each age group in Shandong.

Figure 11

Public receptivity toward reclaimed water uses with overall public willingness values larger than 3 for each educational level group in Shandong.

Figure 11

Public receptivity toward reclaimed water uses with overall public willingness values larger than 3 for each educational level group in Shandong.

Figure 12

Public receptivity toward reclaimed water uses with overall public willingness values larger than 3 for each occupational group in Shandong.

Figure 12

Public receptivity toward reclaimed water uses with overall public willingness values larger than 3 for each occupational group in Shandong.

Figure 13

Public receptivity toward reclaimed water uses with overall public willingness values larger than 3 for each monthly income group in Shandong.

Figure 13

Public receptivity toward reclaimed water uses with overall public willingness values larger than 3 for each monthly income group in Shandong.

As shown in Figure 9, females are more willing to accept all reclaimed water applications than males, except for firefighting and industry cooling water use, for which males show a larger willingness than females.

Figure 10 illustrates the relationship between the age of the respondent and their receptivity toward reclaimed water uses. Among all respondents, young people (21–30 years old) are the most enthusiastic about using reclaimed water in all applications, except for industrial cooling water use. Mid-aged people (31–40 years) are much more willing to accept using reclaimed water for toilet flushing than other groups, except the age group of 21–30 years, whereas younger people (under 20 years) show the least interest. Older people (41–50 years and >51 years) are much more resistant to using reclaimed water for road dust flushing than mid-aged (31–40 years) and young (21–30 years) people. It could be observed that the older the respondent, the more unlikely they are to accept using reclaimed water for landscape environment use, except for the age group younger than 20 years. For the purposes of firefighting, car washing, and fountains, in terms of the three age groups of 21–30 years, 31–40 years, and 41–50 years, the older the respondent, the weaker their receptivity toward reclaimed water, except for the age group younger than 20 years and the group older than 51 years. Regarding industrial cooling water use, it could be found that the older the respondent, the higher their willingness, except for the age group of 21–30 years.

It can be concluded from Figure 11 that the educational level of the respondent is moderately related to their receptivity toward reclaimed water uses. There is an obvious trend that the higher the educational level of the respondent, the greater their willingness for using reclaimed water for toilet flushing and firefighting. This trend holds for the three reclaimed water purposes of road dust flushing, landscape environment use, and car washing, except for people holding a masters or doctorate degree. Regarding the two purposes of fountain and industrial cooling water, people with high educational levels (undergraduate and masters or doctorate) show a greater interest than people with low educational levels (high school and associate degrees).

The relationship between the occupation of the respondent and their receptivity toward reclaimed water uses is demonstrated in Figure 12. Official and institutional workers are the most willing to use reclaimed water for all applications among all occupational groups. Self-employed people show the least interest in accepting reclaimed water for toilet flushing and road dust control among all respondents. Those people with other occupations express the most resistant attitude toward using reclaimed water for landscape environment use, firefighting, fountains, and industry cooling water among all occupational groups.

Figure 13 shows the relationship between the monthly income of the respondent and their receptivity toward reclaimed water uses. There is a slight trend in which respondents with higher monthly incomes are more likely to accept using reclaimed water for toilet flushing, except for the mid-income group of 4,000–6,000 RMB. Higher income people (higher than 8,000 RMB) show the highest willingness toward reclaimed water use for road dust flushing among all respondents, and there are no large differences among the other four groups. There is an obvious trend in which respondents with higher monthly incomes have stronger receptivity to landscape environment use, except the high-income group of 6,000–8,000 RMB. For firefighting use, high-income people (6,000–8,000 RMB and >8,000 RMB) are much more willing to accept reclaimed water than other people (<2,000 RMB, 2,000–4,000 RMB, and 4,000–6,000 RMB). For use in car washing, higher income people (>8,000 RMB) express the greatest willingness among all respondents, followed by the group with an income of 2,000–4,000 RMB and the group with an income of 6,000–8,000 RMB, with mid-income people (4,000–6,000 RMB) showing the least interest. It could be found that mid-income (4,000–6,000 RMB) and high-income (6,000–8,000 RMB and >8,000 RMB) people are more interested in accepting reclaimed water for fountains than low-income people (<2,000 RMB and 2,000–4,000 RMB). It is an obvious trend that respondents with higher monthly incomes are more willing to accept using reclaimed water for industrial cooling water.

Finally, linear correlation between sociodemographic background of every respondent and their knowledge about water resources and water use and their attitudes toward the use of reclaimed water is conducted, as presented in Table 4. In general, when mentioning the respondents’ knowledge of water resources and water use in daily life, age and educational level are two significant factors, and the monthly income also plays a significant role as well. The older respondents with a higher education level and a higher monthly income seem more knowledgeable about water resources and water use than other people, as already discussed in Figures 48. When asked the respondent's attitude toward the use of reclaimed water and water price issue, age and educational background still are two important factors. Those older people with a higher educational level are more receptive to the uses of reclaimed water and show a more optimistic attitude toward the reform in water price than other respondents, as already discussed in Figures 913. Additionally, occupation of the respondent also plays a significant role in affecting their attitudes toward the use of reclaimed water and water price issue. The official and institutional workers are the most receptive toward the use of reclaimed water and water price issue among all respondents, as shown in Figure 12.

Table 4

Sociodemographic factors of the respondents that affect their knowledge of water resources and attitudes toward the use of reclaimed water

Category Question
 
Significant demographic factora 
No. Content 
Knowledge about water resources and water use Which do you think is main water source in Shandong? Occupation* 
Who do you think is the biggest water user in Shandong? Age**, Education**, Income** 
What do you think is the condition of the water shortage in Shandong? – 
Which do you think is the largest sewage source in Shandong? Age*, Education** 
10 Where is wastewater primarily discharged? Education**, Income** 
11 Are you aware of reclaimed water (wastewater recycling/reuse)? Age*, Education**, Income** 
12 How are you aware of reclaimed water? – 
13 Is reclaimed water useful? Education** 
14 Are you aware of harvesting rainwater for use? Gender**, Education**, Income** 
15 Do you use reclaimed water in your daily life? Income** 
16 How much water does your family use monthly? Age**, Education*, Occupation**, Income** 
17 Which behavior consumes the most water in your family? Age* 
18 Do you take water conservation measures in daily life? Age**, Education**, Occupation* 
Acceptance toward use of reclaimed water 19 Would you accept using reclaimed water in daily life? Education** 
20 Would you accept using harvested rainwater? Gender*, Education**, Occupation* 
21 Would you accept using reclaimed water as domestic potable water? Gender**, Age* 
22 Would you accept using reclaimed water as domestic non-potable water? Age** 
23 Would you accept using reclaimed water for fountains? Age**, Occupation* 
24 Would you accept using reclaimed water for landscape environment purposes? Age*, Education**, Occupation* 
25 Would you accept using reclaimed water for toilet flushing? Age*, Education** 
26 Would you accept using reclaimed water for car washing? Age**, Education** 
27 Would you accept using reclaimed water for road dust flushing? Age*, Education** 
28 Would you accept discharging reclaimed water to supplement rivers/lakes? Gender*, Age*, Education**, Occupation**, Income** 
29 Would you accept using reclaimed water for firefighting purposes? Education**, Occupation* 
30 Would you accept using reclaimed water for groundwater recharging? – 
31 Would you accept using reclaimed water for agriculture irrigation? Education*, Occupation* 
32 Would you accept using reclaimed water for industrial cooling water? Education**, Occupation**, Income* 
33 Are you willing to pay for sewage treatment? Education**, Occupation**, Income* 
34 Are you willing to accept a water price adjustment? Education* 
35 How do you evaluate the present price of tap water in Shandong? Gender*, Age**, Occupation** 
36 What percent, in your mind, is a reasonable ratio for the price of reclaimed water to tap water? Age*, Education** 
Category Question
 
Significant demographic factora 
No. Content 
Knowledge about water resources and water use Which do you think is main water source in Shandong? Occupation* 
Who do you think is the biggest water user in Shandong? Age**, Education**, Income** 
What do you think is the condition of the water shortage in Shandong? – 
Which do you think is the largest sewage source in Shandong? Age*, Education** 
10 Where is wastewater primarily discharged? Education**, Income** 
11 Are you aware of reclaimed water (wastewater recycling/reuse)? Age*, Education**, Income** 
12 How are you aware of reclaimed water? – 
13 Is reclaimed water useful? Education** 
14 Are you aware of harvesting rainwater for use? Gender**, Education**, Income** 
15 Do you use reclaimed water in your daily life? Income** 
16 How much water does your family use monthly? Age**, Education*, Occupation**, Income** 
17 Which behavior consumes the most water in your family? Age* 
18 Do you take water conservation measures in daily life? Age**, Education**, Occupation* 
Acceptance toward use of reclaimed water 19 Would you accept using reclaimed water in daily life? Education** 
20 Would you accept using harvested rainwater? Gender*, Education**, Occupation* 
21 Would you accept using reclaimed water as domestic potable water? Gender**, Age* 
22 Would you accept using reclaimed water as domestic non-potable water? Age** 
23 Would you accept using reclaimed water for fountains? Age**, Occupation* 
24 Would you accept using reclaimed water for landscape environment purposes? Age*, Education**, Occupation* 
25 Would you accept using reclaimed water for toilet flushing? Age*, Education** 
26 Would you accept using reclaimed water for car washing? Age**, Education** 
27 Would you accept using reclaimed water for road dust flushing? Age*, Education** 
28 Would you accept discharging reclaimed water to supplement rivers/lakes? Gender*, Age*, Education**, Occupation**, Income** 
29 Would you accept using reclaimed water for firefighting purposes? Education**, Occupation* 
30 Would you accept using reclaimed water for groundwater recharging? – 
31 Would you accept using reclaimed water for agriculture irrigation? Education*, Occupation* 
32 Would you accept using reclaimed water for industrial cooling water? Education**, Occupation**, Income* 
33 Are you willing to pay for sewage treatment? Education**, Occupation**, Income* 
34 Are you willing to accept a water price adjustment? Education* 
35 How do you evaluate the present price of tap water in Shandong? Gender*, Age**, Occupation** 
36 What percent, in your mind, is a reasonable ratio for the price of reclaimed water to tap water? Age*, Education** 

aLinear correlation between sociodemographic background of every respondent and their knowledge about water resources and water use and their attitudes toward the use of reclaimed water is performed.

Statistical inferences: * and ** represent the mentioned factor is correlated to the question at p < 0.05 and p < 0.01 significance levels, respectively.

SUGGESTIONS AND CONCLUSIONS

Some suggestions

As mentioned in the introduction, 243 WWTP and 136 water reclamation plants were constructed by the end of 2015 to supply a large amount of reclaimed water for a variety of needs in Shandong. Table 5 presents information on the WWTP and water reclamation plants built in all 17 cities in Shandong province, including the quantity, treatment or production capacity and pipeline length. In 2015, 27.16% of treated wastewater was utilized for a variety of purposes (i.e., utilization rate of reclaimed water is 27.16%) in Shandong (Annual Report of Water Resources Management 2015). According to the document entitled ‘Guidance on strengthening sewage treatment and reuse’, published by the Shandong government in 2011, the utilization rate of reclaimed water is planned to reach 30% by 2020. The utilization of reclaimed water has been a long-term and important strategy for water resource management in Shandong. Since public willingness toward the use of reclaimed water for various purposes is critical to the successful implementation of reclaimed water projects, it is important for policy-makers to understand the current public knowledge and attitude toward reclaimed water.

Table 5

Constructions of WWTP and water reclamation plants by the end of 2015 in Shandong

Cities in Shandong WWTP
 
Length of wastewater drainage pipeline (km) Water reclamation plant
 
Length of reclaimed water delivery pipeline 
Quantity Treatment capacity (*10,000 m³/d) Quantity Production capacity (*10,000 m³/d) 
Jinan 19 110 93 38 117.8 86 
Qingdao 20 158.83 4,299.85 72 97 
Zibo 22 94.7 234.62 36.8 23.5 
Zaozhuang 41 85 39.5 24.1 
Dongying 176 5.5 15.28 
Yantai 18 105.7 2,905.37 6.5 58.6 
Weifang 32 158.8 1,370.14 13 51.2 110 
Jining 22 84.2 1,118.75 13 22.66 48.97 
Taian 12 40.5 298 11 39.5 232.2 
Weihai 12 34.36 1,595 – – – 
Rizhao 10 33.8 614.4 17.5 21.4 
Laiwu 11.5 95 11.5 37 
Linyi 13 42 705.65 7.5 10.67 
Dezhou 21 70.9 1,080.52 13.5 32.9 
Liaocheng 13 59.4 1,344 22.8 41.75 
Binzhou 13 60.5 643.2 10 45.5 40 
Heze 16 420 8.5 33 
In total 243 1,129.19 17,078.5 136 518.26 912.37 
Cities in Shandong WWTP
 
Length of wastewater drainage pipeline (km) Water reclamation plant
 
Length of reclaimed water delivery pipeline 
Quantity Treatment capacity (*10,000 m³/d) Quantity Production capacity (*10,000 m³/d) 
Jinan 19 110 93 38 117.8 86 
Qingdao 20 158.83 4,299.85 72 97 
Zibo 22 94.7 234.62 36.8 23.5 
Zaozhuang 41 85 39.5 24.1 
Dongying 176 5.5 15.28 
Yantai 18 105.7 2,905.37 6.5 58.6 
Weifang 32 158.8 1,370.14 13 51.2 110 
Jining 22 84.2 1,118.75 13 22.66 48.97 
Taian 12 40.5 298 11 39.5 232.2 
Weihai 12 34.36 1,595 – – – 
Rizhao 10 33.8 614.4 17.5 21.4 
Laiwu 11.5 95 11.5 37 
Linyi 13 42 705.65 7.5 10.67 
Dezhou 21 70.9 1,080.52 13.5 32.9 
Liaocheng 13 59.4 1,344 22.8 41.75 
Binzhou 13 60.5 643.2 10 45.5 40 
Heze 16 420 8.5 33 
In total 243 1,129.19 17,078.5 136 518.26 912.37 

Our survey results indicate that the people in Shandong lack knowledge about the present condition of water resources. Hence, the government and public media are responsible for helping the public correctly understand the present development status of water resources in Shandong through the dissemination of professional knowledge (or information) and education. For every knowledge point (questions No. 6 to No. 10), we suggest a group as the a priori target for information dissemination and education to increase the public's knowledge of water resources, based on the graphical analysis results in the ‘Results and discussion’ section of this paper. This group is called the ‘a priori group’ here, and it is the group in which people are the most knowledgeable about water resources in Shandong depending on gender, age, educational level, occupation, and monthly income, as shown in Table 6. In general, to increase public knowledge about water resources in Shandong, this study suggests that knowledge dissemination and education could be promoted among males who have an educational level of masters or doctorate degrees and a monthly income higher than 8,000 RMB.

Table 6

Suggestions of a priori groups to increase public knowledge of water resources and improve public receptivity toward reclaimed water in Shandong

Category Question
 
Prior group to increase public knowledge about water resources and public acceptance toward reclaimed water
 
No. Content Gender Age Educational level Occupation Monthly income 
Knowledge about water resources Main water source Male 21–30, 31–40, >51 Undergraduate, Master and Doctor degree Private company, Other occupations 6,000–8,000, >8,000 
 Biggest water user Male >51 Master and Doctor degree Unemployed 6,000–8,000, >8,000 
 Know water shortage? Male >51 Master and Doctor degree Other occupations >8,000 
 Largest sewage source Male 21–30 Master and Doctor degree Official & Institutional worker 4,000–6,000, >8,000 
 10 Where is the sewage primarily discharged to? Female <20 Associate degree or Master and Doctor degree Other occupations >8,000 
Attitude toward reclaimed water uses 23 Overall public willingness >3 Fountains Male or female 21–30 Undergraduate Official and institutional worker >8,000 
 24 >3 Landscape environment purpose Male or female 21–30 Undergraduate Official and institutional worker >8,000 
 25 >3 Toilet flushing Female 21–30 Master and Doctor degree, undergraduate Official and institutional worker >8,000 
 26 >3 Car washing Female 21–30 Undergraduate Official and institutional worker >8,000 
 27 >3 Road dust flushing Female 21–30 Undergraduate Official and institutional worker >8,000 
 29 >3 Firefighting purpose Male 21–30 Master and Doctor degree, undergraduate Official and institutional worker 6,000–8,000, >8,000 
 32 >3 Industry cooling water purpose Male >51 Undergraduate Official and institutional worker >8,000 
Water price issue 33 Paying for sewage treatment Male 41–50, >51 Master and Doctor degree Official and institutional worker 4,000–6,000 
 34 Accept water price reform Male ≥51 Master and Doctor degree Official and Institutional worker 6,000–8,000 
Category Question
 
Prior group to increase public knowledge about water resources and public acceptance toward reclaimed water
 
No. Content Gender Age Educational level Occupation Monthly income 
Knowledge about water resources Main water source Male 21–30, 31–40, >51 Undergraduate, Master and Doctor degree Private company, Other occupations 6,000–8,000, >8,000 
 Biggest water user Male >51 Master and Doctor degree Unemployed 6,000–8,000, >8,000 
 Know water shortage? Male >51 Master and Doctor degree Other occupations >8,000 
 Largest sewage source Male 21–30 Master and Doctor degree Official & Institutional worker 4,000–6,000, >8,000 
 10 Where is the sewage primarily discharged to? Female <20 Associate degree or Master and Doctor degree Other occupations >8,000 
Attitude toward reclaimed water uses 23 Overall public willingness >3 Fountains Male or female 21–30 Undergraduate Official and institutional worker >8,000 
 24 >3 Landscape environment purpose Male or female 21–30 Undergraduate Official and institutional worker >8,000 
 25 >3 Toilet flushing Female 21–30 Master and Doctor degree, undergraduate Official and institutional worker >8,000 
 26 >3 Car washing Female 21–30 Undergraduate Official and institutional worker >8,000 
 27 >3 Road dust flushing Female 21–30 Undergraduate Official and institutional worker >8,000 
 29 >3 Firefighting purpose Male 21–30 Master and Doctor degree, undergraduate Official and institutional worker 6,000–8,000, >8,000 
 32 >3 Industry cooling water purpose Male >51 Undergraduate Official and institutional worker >8,000 
Water price issue 33 Paying for sewage treatment Male 41–50, >51 Master and Doctor degree Official and institutional worker 4,000–6,000 
 34 Accept water price reform Male ≥51 Master and Doctor degree Official and Institutional worker 6,000–8,000 

The analysis of public attitudes toward uses of reclaimed water suggest that people are generally positively receptive toward using reclaimed water in Shandong. However, public receptivity toward some applications is relatively low, especially with respect to domestic potable water. Dissemination of professional knowledge (or information) on the quality of reclaimed water can alleviate people's concerns and could play an important role in motivating the public to accept reclaimed water (Hartley 2006). A pleasant experience of using reclaimed water may be helpful to alleviate public concern regarding the quality of reclaimed water (Baumann & Kasperson 1974). For every use of reclaimed water, we also suggest an a priori group for knowledge dissemination and experience education in order to improve public receptivity toward reclaimed water, as also shown in Table 6. For uses with overall public willingness values larger than 3, knowledge dissemination and education activities could be suggested to focus on official and institutional female workers who are 21–30 years of age and have an educational level higher than undergraduate and a monthly income higher than 8,000 RMB.

According to the survey results, 72% of the respondents think that the present water price in Shandong is reasonable or a little expensive. Approximately 73% of people reasonably suggest that the price of reclaimed water should be 20% or 30% of that of tap water in Shandong. The current price for tap water in Qingdao in Shandong province is 3.5–8 RMB per ton and that of reclaimed water is 1.7 RMB per ton. Currently, the price structure of reclaimed water is not adequate to compensate for capital investments and operation costs of wastewater treatment facilities, which are greatly subsidized by the government (Yi et al. 2011; Lyu et al. 2016). So far, an incentive mechanism for the use of reclaimed water has not been well formed. Therefore, a water price adjustment is needed, and a rational, cost-justified price structure is necessary so that the demands of tap water and reclaimed water can be balanced. Based on the analysis results (not presented here), official and institutional males older than 51 years with monthly incomes of 4,000–8,000 RMB are the a priori group that has the most willingness to pay for sewage treatment and accept water price adjustment, as presented in the last two rows of Table 6. Thus, it could be suggested that the change in water price policy should focus on these people in order to increase public receptivity toward paying for sewage treatment and water price adjustments.

Conclusions

In this study, a survey was employed to examine public perception, knowledge of water resources, and attitude toward use of reclaimed water in Shandong. Based on the survey results, some concluding remarks were obtained as follows.

Although most people can correctly identify the largest sewage source, most of them do not correctly know the main water source, the biggest water user, and the area in which sewage is primarily discharged. Most people (63.73%) know that Shandong is experiencing a water shortage; however, only a small number (9.15%) realize that there is a severe water shortage. Although most of the respondents (63%) realize the benefits of using reclaimed water, the majority (69%) do not use it in daily life.

In general, the public can be positively receptive toward using reclaimed water for various purposes. The respondents are more willing to use reclaimed water for toilet flushing, road dust flushing, landscape environment purposes, and firefighting, followed by car washing, fountains, and industrial cooling. In contrast, they are more concerned about reclaimed water in agricultural irrigation, domestic non-potable water, groundwater recharge, and supplementing rivers/lakes. In particular, the public receptivity toward using reclaimed water for domestic potable water is the lowest.

A graphical analysis was employed to investigate the relationship between the sociodemographic background of the respondent and their knowledge of water resources and attitude toward reclaimed water uses in Shandong. The results indicate that older people and people with a higher educational level are more willing to accept the use of reclaimed water.

Based on the analysis, this study puts forward an a priori group as a target for the dissemination of professional knowledge and education activities to increase public knowledge of water resources and improve public attitude toward the use of reclaimed water in Shandong. In general, to increase public knowledge of water resources, the a priori group includes males who have a masters or doctorate degree and a monthly income higher than 8,000 RMB. To improve public receptivity toward the use of reclaimed water, the a priori group includes official and institutional workers (aged 21–30) who have an undergraduate education level and a monthly income higher than 8,000 RMB. Finally, official and institutional males (older than 51 years) who have a monthly income of 4,000–8,000 RMB could be suggested to be the a priori group for the change in water price.

Constructions of WWTPs and water reclamation plants develop rapidly in Shandong, producing a large amount of reclaimed water for various needs. The utilization of reclaimed water is playing an increasingly important role in addressing the deficiency of water resources in Shandong. However, the successful advancement of using reclaimed water heavily depends on public perceived knowledge about water resources and positive public attitude toward the use of reclaimed water. This study can provide policy-makers with current information on the public's knowledge of water resources and the public attitude toward the use of reclaimed water in Shandong. Furthermore, this study puts forward an a priori group as the target for the dissemination of professional knowledge and education activities to increase public knowledge and improve public attitude toward reclaimed water in Shandong. The study can also be a valuable reference for other regions of China and developing countries facing similar advancements in the development of reclaimed water.

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Supplementary data