Divergent perspectives on water resource sustainability in a public-policy-science context

Kelli Larson, Dave White, Patricia Gober, Sharon Harlan, Amber Wutich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

66 Scopus citations


Diverging perspectives toward environmental problems, their causes, and solutions can exacerbate controversy in participatory decision making. Past research has examined the lay-expert divide in perceptions about diverse risks, but relatively few studies have examined multidimensional perspectives on water scarcity across expert groups with different knowledge systems. We address this gap by examining conflicting perspectives across 'lay' residents and academic and policymaking 'experts' in Phoenix, AZ. We analyze ecological concern about water issues, risk perceptions regarding the factors contributing to scarcity, and policy attitudes pertaining to resource management alternatives. All three groups expressed substantial concern for broad-scale water issues, especially drought. Residents exhibited a heightened tendency to blame other people for water scarcity, in addition to opposition toward stringent approaches such as water pricing. While strongly supporting the acquisition of more supplies, policymakers exhibited lower concern about regional water use rates while displacing blame away from anthropogenic causes compared to both residents and academic experts. Scientists, on the other hand, stressed the need for stricter regulation of water demand. Findings point to the challenges of meshing different knowledge systems for collaborative research and policy making.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1012-1023
Number of pages12
JournalEnvironmental Science and Policy
Issue number7
StatePublished - Nov 2009


  • Environmental attitudes
  • Risk perceptions
  • Science-policy interactions
  • Water resource geography
  • decision making

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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