The University of Arizona

Toilet power: potable water reuse and the situated meaning of sustainability in the southwestern United States

Kerri Jean Ormerod


Proposals to recycle urban wastewater for potable purposes are at the forefront of water development. In this article I combine political ecology's attention to networked relations with Q methodology to identify the shared positions of select stakeholders in the southwestern United States, an urbanizing region increasingly reliant on potable water reuse. I employ critical Q methodology to provide a contextual understanding of how water and sanitation technology shapes subjects and environments. The analyses reveal two distinct sanitary subjectivities, which I label neosanitarian and ecosanitarian, whose views most sharply diverge regarding the appropriateness of direct potable reuse and composting toilets. The findings highlight the situated meaning of sustainability and also underscore the role that wastewater and water reuse play in shaping ecologies, which in turn, helps to identify the environments of elimination that make specific innovations in the water sector possible. In conclusion, I suggest that in the broader context of potable water reuse, the toilet is in a perniciously powerful position to make city-spaces and shape the future citizenry.

Keywords: infrastructure, urban metabolism, Q methodology, water recycling, composting toilet

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