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Ignorance is bliss? A case of un-politicized drinking water


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Presented at the 10th Nordic Drinking Water Conference, Reykjavík Iceland

Published in: Engineering
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Ignorance is bliss? A case of un-politicized drinking water

  1. 1. Ignorance is bliss? A case of un-politicized drinking water @AnninaTakala / Tampere University of Technology, Finland
  2. 2. Invisible Taken for granted Underrated People don’t know People don’t understand
  3. 3. Why are water services not politicized? • Politicization • topic becomes an object of public debate • opening, broadening, and restoring public discussion • constructing / framing (environmental) problems • How to research something so mundane, something that is embedded in everyday practices, something that retreats into the background of awareness? (Sofoulis 2005)
  4. 4. Lately, problems related to river Eurajoki have been widely discussed in public. This is no wonder as there have been so many unfortunate events. Several sewer overflows, sludge emissions, chemical discharges… This week situation worsened again so that downstream water users, Rauma Water and UPM, had to stop taking water. The biggest trouble was caused to Rauma Water who had to rely on water from lake Äyhönjärvi. This water will suffice for a week.
  5. 5. LS Tekstaritalikko 20.9.2012 LS Tekstaritalikko 21.9.2012 LS Tekstaritalikko 23.9.2012
  6. 6. • Rauma’s raw water: • river Eurajoki • river Lapinjoki • Throughout the years, there has been trouble both with the quality and quantity of water • Rauma Water supplies drinking water to 38 800 people • Permanganate value: 30 - 80 mg/l KMnO4 (4 - 7 mg/l KMnO4) A case study: Drinking water in the town of Rauma
  7. 7. River Eurajoki • 52 km • Average flow 11 m3/s • Raw water acquisition: Rauma, industry (pulp and paper), Olkiluoto (nuclear power plant) • Wastewater treatment plants: JVP-Eura Oy (Eura municipality and industry), Säkylä municipality, Apetit Oyj (food processing) • High microbial content (source unclear)
  8. 8. Local newspaper (2005-2015) • More than 200 news pieces about the problems related to River Eurajoki • 50 mention Rauma’s raw water acquisition
  9. 9. “Do people from Rauma understand what kind of raw water the town uses to make its drinking water. No, they don’t understand, they don’t know. The officials do know, but don’t do anything about it. Concerned Local newspaper (2005-2015) • More than 100 SMSs from the readers • 25 mention Rauma’s raw water acquisition
  10. 10. Why was drinking water not politicized?
  11. 11. People understand? • People understand that in the water treatment plant all kinds of impurities can be removed and that the drinking water is safe. • However, at least some people are very much concerned and these concerns impact their lives: • “It makes me wonder what kind of risks drinking water causes for the little children and the ill ones… I’m wondering what would be the safe way to use water. Should it be boiled?” • ”I don’t drink tap water. It tastes and smells terrible. I use boiled water for cooking. I really wouldn’t give it to my kids."
  12. 12. • People don’t know where their water comes from • Raw water acquisition had been explained in the local newspaper several times • “Water has tasted bad already before, but based on the situation in Eura, I don’t dare to use water anymore.” • 69 % are happy with the quality of drinking water (national average is 95 %) People don’t know and don’t care?
  13. 13. • Maybe people contact the municipality and water utility directly? • Instead of collective action people protect themselves and their families (i.e. inverted quarantine, Szasz 2007) • E.g. buying bottled water • ”In our family, we donʼt drink tap water; instead we buy water or get it from my sister [living in the next town]. But it is hard. And it feels bad as thereʼs so much plastic waste and our municipality doesnʼt even have a recycling system for plastic.” • No statistics on bottled water consumption People are concerned but this does not result in collective action?
  14. 14. Trust? Denial? Humble adaptation? • High level of trust in public services • Drinking water is a very intimate issue crossing the boundaries of home and body (e.g. Wilk 2006; Fitchen 1989) • ”Humble adaptation” (Lahti 1996) • ”Substantial concern, modest salience” (Szasz 2007)
  15. 15. • Tap water is used mainly for other purposes than drinking. Does not interest water utilities? • Just a personal preference? • ”I don’t eat liver, but I don’t contact the liver company to tell them that I’m not eating your product.” Ignorance is bliss?
  16. 16. Drinking water as public service • Ethos of serving public good • “It feels that you are not allowed to talk about these things. You are not allowed to complain [about water] because everything is so good. [… ]But why is there no public debate about this? Is it not allowed to talk about it? Why donʼt they do anything?” • Distrust can develop over time, especially if concerns are not addressed (Parag & Roberts 2009)
  17. 17. Paradigms of water services management (Heino & Takala 2015) Production orientation • Ignorance is bliss • Educating people • More visibility, more communication Service orientation • Ethos of serving the public good • Co-management and co- creation of value • Open and shared expertise
  18. 18. Thank you! • References • Fitchen, J.M. 1989. When Toxic chemicals Pollute Residential Environments: The Cultural Meanings of Home and Homeownership. Human Organization 48(4), 313–324. • Heino, O. & Takala, A. 2015a. Paradigm Shift of Water Services: From Production Mentality to Service Mindset. Water Alternatives, 8(3), 433-446. • Lahti, V.-M. 1996. Risk society came to town: a sociological study of the consequences in people’s lives of their tap water being polluted (in Finnish). Doctoral dissertation, University of Helsinki. • Parag, Y. & Roberts, J.T. 2009. A Battle Against the Bottles: Building, Claiming, and Regaining Tap-Water Trustworthiness. Society and Natural Resources 22(7), 625– 636. • Sofoulis, Z. 2005. Big Water, Everyday Water: A Sociotechnical Perspective. Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies, 19(4), 445-463. • Szasz, A. 2007. Shopping Our Way to Safety. How We Changed from Protecting the Environment to Protecting Ourselves. University of Minnesota Press. • Wilk, R. 2006. Bottled Water: The pure commodity in the age of branding. Journal of Consumer Culture 6(3), 303–325.