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Measuring the sustainability of urban water services

Marques, Rui Cunha, da Cruz, Nuno Ferreira, Pires, João
Environmental Science and Policy 2015 v.54 pp. 142-151
assets, governance, multi-criteria decision making, Portugal
This paper discusses the concept of ‘sustainable water services’ and suggests a multicriteria method to assess it. Although conceptual discussions around this notion are often confined to the triple bottom line (TBL) classification, it seems that the TBL approach does not provide the suitable framework to measure water services sustainability. It is argued that assets (or technical) and governance aspects are also indispensable dimensions. After revisiting the concept in broader terms, several criteria and metrics are suggested to operationalize and quantify the sustainability level of urban water services. To aggregate the numerous aspects that are relevant in this scope a multicriteria decision analysis approach is proposed. Furthermore, to illustrate the real-world application of the method, a multicriteria model applicable to the case of Portugal was developed and calibrated with the input of a decision-maker with extensive experience in the sector. With the suggested framework it is possible to assess the global sustainability level of the water services (e.g. of each utility) and also the performance in each particular dimension (‘social’, ‘environmental’, ‘economic’, ‘governance’ and ‘assets’).