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Critical insights for a sustainability framework to address integrated community water services: Technical metrics and approaches
Xue, X., M. Schoen, Cissy Ma, T. Hawkins, N. Ashbolt, J. Cashdollar, AND J. Garland. Critical insights for a sustainability framework to address integrated community water services: Technical metrics and approaches. WATER RESEARCH. Elsevier Science Ltd, New York, NY, 77:155-169, (2015).
The paper is under SSWR 5.1a "Selection, development and application of metrics and tools for integrated sustainability assessments, and demonstration of next-generation urban water infrastructure that provides comparisions to address public health, societal/economic and ecological water needs". The justification for a particular water service infrastructure depends on the metrics used in option selection. Focusing on only some aspects (e.g. price and human health) provides for a solution set that may prove to be unsustainable, in essence, what we have today with decayed infrastructure and ecosystem services. This paper intends to identify key metrics (such as index compounds for classes of chemicals in drinking water, indicators of health outcome, eutrophication potential, net-present value etc.) and tools (e.g. quantitative microbial risk assessment, ecological footprint, emergy, life-cycle assessment, life-cycle costing) for undertaking coarse screening-level and fine-scale detailed human health, ecosystem and economic assessments of water systems. In taking a broader systems approach that addresses metrics for human health, economic, and ecological effects over the predicted life-time of a water system, it will be more likely to identify sustainable water systems.
Planning for sustainable community water systems requires a comprehensive understanding and assessment of the integrated source-drinking-wastewater systems over their life-cycles. Although traditional life cycle assessment and similar tools (e.g. footprints and emergy) have been applied to elements of these water services (i.e. water resources, drinking water, stormwater or wastewater treatment alone), we argue for the importance of developing and combining the system-based tools and metrics in order to holistically evaluate the complete water service system based on the concept of integrated resource management. We analyzed the strengths and weaknesses of key system-based tools and metrics, and discuss future directions to identify more sustainable municipal water services. Such efforts may include the need for novel metrics that address system adaptability to future changes and infrastructure robustness. Caution is also necessary when coupling fundamentally different tools so to avoid misunderstanding and consequently misleading decision-making.