Press Releases

We're Drinking Dinosaur Tears

Nobody wants to think about it, but all water is essentially recycled—it's dinosaur tears, a colleague of mine likes to joke. Since most of the water that we drink each day has passed through other humans at some point before it reaches us, why are we so repelled by the concept of water reuse and terms like "toilet to tap"? A recent study examined people's feelings about adopting recycled water.

A 2015 internet survey of 1,500 Californians revealed that only 11% of Californians indicate that they would drink recycled water. Stanford political scientists Iris Hui and Bruce Cain launched a study to better understand why. The researchers discovered a number of fascinating results. While 87% and 86% of survey respondents indicated that they were comfortable watering their lawns and flushing toilets with recycled water, the study found that "direct consumption or skin contact with recycled water stirs the strongest resistance," specifically drinking, bathing, and cooking with recycled water.

In general, males were more willing to use recycled water than women. Self-identified Democrats were less resistant to using recycled water than Republicans or Independents. And people living in areas adversely affected by limited water resources such as the Central Valley showed more support for recycled water, though they too balked at drinking and cooking with recycled water.

Contrary to previous research, Hui and Cain's study discovered that the respondents' educational level didn't affect their views of recycled water. What did influence their perspective, however, was learning about the existence of other reuse systems, specifically the Orange County Groundwater Replenishment System's indirect potable reuse process.

"When we give people more information about the recycled water system and how it gets purified and injected into local groundwater before being taken out for use, those details make people feel more comfortable using it in certain applications," Hui tells Water Deeply. "The public information on this particular topic is very shallow. When you frame it differently, people react differently."

In fact, after people were informed that Orange County has a "toilet to tap wastewater recycling program for outdoor and indoor water use, including drinking and bathing," and that this system provides 70% of the county's water, their willingness to drink recycled water increased from 11% to 17%. When the "toilet to tap" moniker was dropped and additional positive insight was provided about the treatment process, support for using recycled water increased further, but the share of Californians willing to drink it was still only 21%.

The study indicates that successful existing water recycling programs have a reassuring effect on people—a factor that could impact the rate of adoption. "As more communities adopt recycled water without harmful effects, the resistance to recycled water in other communities may break down over time," write Hui and Cain.

Laura Sanchez • November 8, 2017

Never Enough Parking Spaces

Did you drive to work this morning? Was a parking space waiting for you when you arrived? Many cities require developers to provide a minimum number of parking spaces for office, retail, and residential buildings; sometimes the number is based on the square footage of the building, sometimes on occupancy. Many calculate the required number of spaces based on peak demand. As this article from the Economist notes, some cities ask for what seems like an excessive amount. Cupertino, CA—home to Apple's new headquarters building—requires two parking spaces per apartment, one space for every three seats in a fast-food restaurant, and seven spaces per lane in a bowling alley (plus more for employees). Apple's headquarters will have 11,000 parking spaces for 14,000 workers, and the parking will take up more area than the offices and laboratories.

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Another thing parking does, although the Economist article doesn't mention it, is add impervious surface to the landscape. This article from Stormwater by Lisa Nisenson and Clark Anderson suggests that cities reviewing their ordinances and codes can and should eliminate excess parking: "Like street design, parking occupies a conspicuous spot on the impervious audit radar. Almost all code reviews recommend reducing the amount of parking in standards. However, there is no magic code change wand that reduces spaces without some pushback from retailers, landowners, and stakeholders concerned about spillover parking. We found that successful efforts often began with parking space utilization studies. These studies look at the degree of over- and undersupply, how to handle peak parking events, and management options within a 'parking-shed.' Parking studies usually initiate a broader effort to 'find' parking spaces on existing paved areas. Even so, there are a couple of quick fixes. For example, basing parking requirements on staffed space rather than gross square footage can reflect demand while reducing spaces needed."

The Economist article notes that after London got rid of parking minimums altogether in 2004, essentially letting market forces decide how much would be available, the number of spaces in residential areas actually dropped. In general, eliminating excess parking is a good thing, not only in terms of managing stormwater but in making a city more livable: "The more spread out and car-oriented a city… the less appealing walking and cycling become," the article points out. "Parking influences the way cities look, and how people travel around them, more powerfully than almost anything else".

Cities with minimum parking requirements also make things tough for redevelopment and infill projects, which often don't have enough land available to satisfy them. Going underground is not an attractive option, either: "Creating the minimum number of spaces adds 67% to the cost of a new shopping center in Los Angeles if the car park is above ground and 93% if it is underground." And everyone—even those who rely on public transportation—subsidize that parking by paying more for restaurant meals, theater tickets, and retail goods.

It's a fine line, though—what happens when there's not enough parking? Drivers spend time and gasoline—and get frustrated and angry—driving around searching for an empty space. By one estimate, cars in Los Angeles' Westwood area, which has very few spaces, drive an additional 950,000 miles per year just in the quest for parking spots.

By Janice Kaspersen