Resolving complex conflicts in water management

Posted on July 1, 2013

As with other natural resources, the management of groundwater can be a complex business because of the potential conflict between environmental, social and economic objectives.  Mathematical models are now available to help resolve multi-objective conflicts, but they tend to be too complex and theoretical to be understood by decision-makers.  An alternative, more practical approach has been pioneered by engineers charged with managing the groundwater system in Jinan, eastern China.  Jinan is known as “City of Springs” because of the large number (100+) of artesian springs that have their origins in the underlying limestone.   In the 1980s several springs were lost due to pressures from urban development and an increasing demand for water, which  highlighted the need for effective groundwater management.   The new decision-making method is a stagewise process, which in the Jinan case took the following form.  First, the conflicting parties representing, on the one hand, environmental protection and tourism (party A) and, on the other, urban water supply (party B) provided their preferences for key objectives relating to spring flow, groundwater levels and the rate of pumping.  Then an arbitration group (an expert panel of specialists in hydrology, environmental protection and water planning) used utility-equilibrium and marginal utility programming to arrive at the ideal state acceptable to both parties, and then selected the management action which best approached this solution as the final satisfying decision.  This decision-making approach can be applied to a wide range of multi-person / multi-objective problems, including natural area protection and transport planning. 

Reference:  Guo Li Wang, Li Li Huang & Guo Hua Liang.  2012.  Application of a multi-person and multi-objectivedecision-making model in groundwater resources management.  Journal of Hydrologic Engineering  17(3), 389-393.