Sustainability assessments of regional water supply interventions - Combining cost-benefit and multi-criteria decision analyses

J Environ Manage. 2018 Nov 1;225:313-324. doi: 10.1016/j.jenvman.2018.07.077. Epub 2018 Aug 9.


To cope with present and future challenges, a growing number of water utilities in Sweden, Europe and elsewhere initiate various forms of inter-municipal cooperations creating a new regional level of drinking water governance. In order to reach viable decisions of alternative ways forward, there is an international consensus that sustainability needs to be addressed in water supply planning, design and decision-making. There are, however, few decision aids focusing on assessing the sustainability of inter-municipal cooperations and the inter-municipal policies and interventions that regional decision-makers are faced with. This paper presents a decision support model based on a combination of cost-benefit analysis and multi-criteria decision analysis for assessing the sustainability of regional water supply interventions, including formations of inter-municipal cooperations. The proposed decision support model integrates quantitative and semi-quantitative information on sustainability criteria. It provides a novel way of presenting monetized benefits and costs, capturing utilitarian aspects of alternative interventions, with non-monetized social and environmental effects, capturing aspects based in the deontological theories of moral ethics. The model is based on a probabilistic approach where uncertainties are defined by statistical probability distributions. A case study is used to exemplify and evaluate model application in decision situations regarding regionalization, (de)centralization, source water quality and redundancy. All evaluated alternatives were expected to contribute to a slightly improved social sustainability, whereas the results were more varying in the economic and environmental domains. A structured and transparent treatment of uncertainties facilitates a better understanding of the results as well as communication between decision-makers, stakeholders and the community.

Keywords: Cost-benefit analysis; Decision support; Drinking water supply; Inter-municipal cooperation; Multi-criteria decision analysis; Sustainability criteria.

MeSH terms

  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Decision Support Techniques*
  • Europe
  • Sweden
  • Water Supply / economics*