Why Do Some Water Utilities Recycle More than Others? A Qualitative Comparative Analysis in New South Wales, Australia
Although the recycling of municipal wastewater can play an important role in water supply security and ecosystem protection, the percentage of wastewater recycled is generally low and strikingly variable. Previous research has employed detailed case studies to examine the factors that contribute to recycling success but usually lacks a comparative perspective across cases. In this study, 25 water utilities in New South Wales, Australia, were compared using fuzzy-set Qualitative Comparative Analysis (fsQCA). This research method applies binary logic and set theory to identify the minimal combinations of conditions that are necessary and/or sufficient for an outcome to occur within the set of cases analyzed. The influence of six factors (rainfall, population density, coastal or inland location, proximity to users; cost recovery and revenue for water supply services) was examined for two outcomes, agricultural use and "heavy" (i.e., commercial/municipal/industrial) use. Each outcome was explained by two different pathways, illustrating that different combinations of conditions are associated with the same outcome. Generally, while economic factors are crucial for heavy use, factors relating to water stress and geographical proximity matter most for agricultural reuse. These results suggest that policies to promote wastewater reuse may be most effective if they target uses that are most feasible for utilities and correspond to the local context. This work also makes a methodological contribution through illustrating the potential utility of fsQCA for understanding the complex drivers of performance in water recycling.