The methods of systems analysis - principally, mathematical modelling, simulation, and optimisation - have been widely applied to solving problems in managing the water environment for over three decades. These foundations of the subject remain just as relevant today as hitherto. The problems to which they might be applied, however, or the context in which they might be applied, seem to have changed in ways that could genuinely be described as “radical”. In this survey stock is taken of these changes in perspective, especially over the past ten years: in the emergence of stakeholder participation, environmental ethics, life-cycle analysis, sustainability, industrial ecology, and design for ecological (as opposed to engineering) resilience. Whether the application of systems analysis will require a new approach or new methods with which to address these new issues, is thus open to question. For there are undoubtedly limits of method now discernible, even in respect of the more conventional problems of applying systems analysis to managing water quality. For example, we shall be obliged to acknowledge that, were we to encode all our currently available hypothetical knowledge into a model, this would not be verifiable in the conventional, rigorous sense. Similarly, in spite of a wealth of apparently ever more powerful mathematical formulations of the problem of optimisation, heuristics and intuition must still be called upon to reach even good solutions, reasonably close to where the optimum is thought to lie. Circumventing such methodological difficulties, while yet absorbing the changing currents in outlook on the man-environment relationship, is where candidate tasks for the “new agenda” of the next few years might be found. This paper presents some personal observations on a handful of such candidate tasks.
M. B. Beck; Applying systems analysis in managing the water environment: towards a new agenda. Water Sci Technol 1 September 1997; 36 (5): 1–17. doi: https://doi.org/10.2166/wst.1997.0153
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