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Defining Sustainable Solutions for Water Utilities

20 Apr Research | Comments

Barry Liner, PhD StudentWith water potentially becoming the next oil, water utilities are under tremendous strain to find sustainable solutions to the problem of increasing water demands.  What is a sustainable solution and how do you find one?  This question was recently investigated by Barry Liner, PhD student in Information Technology at George Mason University.

With the Triple Bottom Line (TBL) of Sustainability, total water management efforts must analyze alternatives to address the potentially conflicting goals of economics (financial), environmental, and social issues.  Barry developed a goal programming technique which uses optimization methods to provide a means to solve a problem by striving towards multiple objectives simultaneously.  Barry’s research seeks to apply an optimization framework to the integrated water supply planning process.  His research has produced a methodology that can successfully generate a feasible set of alternative solutions while balancing all three goals of the TBL.

Performance measures for each of the three goals (economic, environmental, and social) are the core building blocks to enable analysis of total water management plans.  Generally, economic goals are well understood and defined.  Over the past decade, environmental goals have been developing enhanced understanding and usage.  Special attention was paid to the third pillar of sustainability – social responsibility, an area which lacks well defined measures of success.  A targeted survey of water industry experts indicated that the social sustainability metrics showing the most promise for use are related to affordability, reliability, and resilience.

Barry’s research proved that the methodology could use existing data (water utility master plans) and tools (Excel) to execute the model and develop tradeoffs between the various aspects of the TBL. In the demonstration with real world utility data, examples are shown detailing the relative costs for enhanced environmental and social goal achievement.  The methodology has the potential to provide increased visibility to cost, societal, and environmental issues for the decision makers in order to enhance the decision analysis of water supply strategies by incorporating the environmental and social aspects of sustainability into the decision process.

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