A new study led by Detroit’s Wayne State University has been published proposing a tool to improve decision-making in the field of investments in drinking water drinking water investment. State agencies, local authorities and utilities must make decisions on where to invest (limited) available funds, which may mean prioritising certain public water systems over others. To do so, decision making criteria are critical.
The existing limited resources to address a problem which is becoming more prominent makes decision-making particularly difficult. However, through a framework grounded in utility theory, the researchers developed a tool to help authorities prioritize investments. Currently in the United States, the prioritization of investments in drinking water systems is strongly related to the number of reported violations of drinking water standards under the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974. However, community health risks are less dependent on incidental violations of drinking water standards than they are on the individual, collective and cumulative effects of longer-term exposure to contaminants.
The results were published in an article titled “Improved Decision-Making: A Sociotechnical Utility-Based Framework for Drinking Water Investment” in American Chemical Society’s ET&T Engineering. The researchers assert that the new tool allows to compare trade-offs explicitly and broaden the factors considered in prioritising resource allocations.
“Drinking water infrastructure suffers from a lack of data, as a result, decisions are based on limited water system data and often without context to overall environmental exposures. Yet people do not experience health risks from water independent from other modes of environmental risk and this perspective needs to be included in infrastructure decision-making.” said lead Researcher Sara Schwetschenau.
“This method was developed in response to this concern and is intended to help water utility decision makers leverage existing sources of data, water data and other demographic and exposure data, to improve their existing decision-making practices.” She added.
This new tool will allow policy makers to assess the tradeoffs of allocation of funds taking into account impacts in terms of water efficiency but also those of a social nature.
Shawn McElmurry, also a researcher in the project, said: “Policy makers will have a better understanding of the sensitivity of funding allocation decisions and will be better able to identify communities that have an increased likelihood of lead exposure and that are at the greatest risk of negative health effects or have a reduced ability to cope as a consequence of exposure.”