The Swedish research programme Urban Water has developed a concept of a multi-criteria basis intended to support decision-making for urban water and wastewater systems. Five criteria groups were established for sustainability assessment of urban water systems: Health and Hygiene, Environment, Economy, Socio-culture, and Technology. Each criterion requires a set of indicators corresponding to quantifiable facts and figures, or qualitative data to comparatively assess the different alternatives in the decision process. The decision support process starts as a baseline study where the existing conditions are addressed. Alternative strategies of the future urban water system are developed and analysed by different tools and methodologies in assessing the five criteria groups. Eventually, the results and conclusions are integrated and synthesised into a basis for decision-making.

As an example of a decision support basis for chemical safety, a barrier perspective was introduced to find out if and to what extent hazardous substances can be stopped, diverged, or transformed at various points in the wastewater system. A set of barriers was suggested, i.e. behaviour, systems design, process design, optional recipients, and organisational. The barrier approach was applied to two alternative municipal wastewater system designs – a combined wastewater system vs. a source separated system – analysing the fate of phosphorus, cadmium, and triclosan. The study showed that the combined system caused a higher substance flow to the receiving waterbody than the separated system. The combined system also brought more phosphorus and cadmium to the farmland than the separated system, but only half the amount of triclosan.

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