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Using a Decision Analysis Tool to Embed the Tenets of Sustainability into Water/Wastewater Utility Policy

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Water/wastewater utilities and municipalities typically make decisions based predominantly on economic variables; a defensible methodology given the importance of minimizing financial impacts and managing public money prudently. As our society progresses, however, utilities are expected to look for opportunities to make more comprehensive decisions that go beyond the traditional economic-based models. In response, some agencies have adopted the “triple bottom line” approach to decision-making, which consists of an evaluation of environmental, economic, and social variables – commonly called sustainability.

Evaluating the relative sustainability of various decision alternatives is often an overwhelming task. For a water/wastewater utility, it requires a tool that can combine technical evaluations with community values in a decision-making framework. It also requires the evaluation and comparison of elements that cannot be measured (or are very difficult to measure) on the same scale.

Decision analysis begins by identifying the major policy objectives that will drive the specific decision. Environmental, economic, and social factors become part of a “value hierarchy” that defines the variables for a sustainable development approach to decision-making. Specific technical considerations and other constraints can identify flawed alternatives or infeasible solutions. The criteria that define each objective are then identified so that decision alternatives may be evaluated against a common framework. Ultimately, the practical success of these decision models relies on a “best practices” approach to model development. Utilities must be willing to contribute the time and resources of managers and staff at different levels and across different disciplines. Recommended solutions will be more robust when stakeholders and other interested parties understand how different value sets and priorities (environmental versus economic versus social objectives) are being considered within the decision framework.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2006

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  • Proceedings of the Water Environment Federation is an archive of papers published in the proceedings of the annual Water Environment Federation® Technical Exhibition and Conference (WEFTEC® ) and specialty conferences held since the year 2000. These proceedings are not peer reviewed.

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