In the context of a changing urban environment and increasing demand due to population growth, alternative water sources must be explored in order to create future water security. Risk assessments play a pivotal role in the take-up of new and unfamiliar water projects, acting as a decision-making tool for business cases. Perceptions of risk ultimately drive risk assessment processes, therefore providing insight into understanding projects that proceed and those that do not. Yet there is limited information on the risk perceptions water professionals have of new and unfamiliar water projects. In this study, 77 water professionals were surveyed from across the Melbourne metropolitan water industry to examine risk perceptions over a range of different, unfamiliar water projects. The qualitative data was thematically analysed, resulting in a number of risk perception factors for each hypothetical project. Risk factors that recurred most frequently are those that relate to community backlash and to the reputation of the organisation. These social risk perceptions occurred more frequently than other more technical risks, such as operational risks and process-related risks. These results were at odds with the existing literature assessing risk perceptions of business-as-usual projects, which presented cost as the key risk attribute. This study sheds light on the perceived nature of new and unfamiliar processes in the water sector, providing an understanding that public perceptions do matter to experts involved in water infrastructure decision-making.
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