EGU24-605, updated on 08 Mar 2024
EGU General Assembly 2024
© Author(s) 2024. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Disentangling social perspectives on the use of reclaimed water in agriculture using Q methodology

Cintya Villacorta Ranera1, Irene Blanco Gutiérrez2, and Paula Novo Nunez3
Cintya Villacorta Ranera et al.
  • 1Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, CEIGRAM, Economía Agraria y Gestión de los Recursos Naturales, Spain (
  • 2Department of Agricultural Economics, Statistics and Business Management, ETSIAAB, Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, Campus Ciudad Universitaria, Av. Puerta de Hierro 2-4, 28040 Madrid, Spain
  • 3Sustainability Research Institute, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds

Water scarcity due to climate change and increased water demands is driving the use of non-conventional water sources, including reclaimed water, particularly in agriculture. In many EU countries affected by droughts, reclaimed water has become an important component of the overall water mix. For example, in Spain, Europe’s most arid country, reclaimed water is 560 hm3/year (nearly 10% of the treated wastewater).

The use of reclaimed water has many advantages, but it also faces significant barriers. The lack of social acceptance has been described as one of the major obstacles. However, understanding how different stakeholders perceive the use of reclaimed water has not been addressed in depth the literature so far. Existing studies are scarce and fragmented. They focus on a single type of stakeholder (farmers or consumers), ignoring the perceptions and eventual acceptance of different stakeholder groups directly or indirectly impacted by reclaimed water.

This study attempts to fill this gap by exploring the plurality of perspectives on the use of reclaimed water for irrigation in Spain. To do so, we applied Q-methodology and conducted twenty-three interviews with key stakeholders, including representatives of public administration, environmental groups, farmer associations, food retailers, consumer organizations, water treatment companies and water reuse experts. As part of the Q study, stakeholders were asked to sort according to their level of relative agreement 36 statements related to different socio-economic, technical, environmental, institutional and political aspects of reclaimed water. The results were analysed using principal component analysis in R ('qmethod' package).

Our study found three discourses: 1- Reclaimed water is a guarantee for water supply in agriculture, 2- Reclaimed water has the potential to be a sustainable water resource and 3- Reclaimed water has a negative impact on the environment. These discourses show different ways of understanding reclaimed water. Although stakeholders had diverse perceptions, there is a certain agreement that the public administration has the will to promote the use of reclaimed water and therefore it is key to promote reclamation projects in agriculture.

They also agree that most consumers are not informed about the quality of reclaimed water and its benefits in the agricultural sector, which leads to a certain social reluctance to use it, and to avoid this, awareness campaigns would be necessary to increase the social acceptance of reclaimed water.

Therefore, some discourses conclude that it is possible that reclaimed water may have pollution problems, but it is also true that the potential for improvement in reclamation technology can avoid them. Regarding the reduction of ecological flows, it is important to study this on a case-by-case basis, as this problem tends to occur in inland areas, although not always.

Finally, the question of who should pay for water regeneration is very controversial and the best solution is to share the costs between the different stakeholders, with the purification and reclamation being carried out tipping fee, and the farmers, with the help of the administration, bearing the costs of the infrastructure and controls from WWTP.

How to cite: Villacorta Ranera, C., Blanco Gutiérrez, I., and Novo Nunez, P.: Disentangling social perspectives on the use of reclaimed water in agriculture using Q methodology, EGU General Assembly 2024, Vienna, Austria, 14–19 Apr 2024, EGU24-605,, 2024.

Corresponding supplementary materials formerly uploaded have been withdrawn.