Main content area

Exploring wastewater system performance under future threats: Does enhancing resilience increase sustainability?

Sweetapple, Chris, Fu, Guangtao, Farmani, Raziyeh, Butler, David
Water research 2019 v.149 pp. 448-459
case studies, rain, wastewater, watersheds
Sustainability and resilience are both key considerations in the design and operation of wastewater systems. However, there is currently a lack of understanding of the relationship between these two goals and of the effects of increasing resilience on sustainability. This paper, therefore, presents a framework for analysis of the effects of resilience-enhancing interventions on sustainability, and applies this to an urban wastewater system. Given that sustainability addresses the long term, the framework includes a novel sustainability assessment approach which captures a continuum of potential future conditions and enables identification of tipping points where applicable. This method allows a wide range of potential futures to be captured whilst removing the need to develop scenarios or future projections. While it may be possible to develop interventions that are beneficial in terms of their effects on both resilience and sustainability, the results obtained from the case study demonstrate that implementing measures designed to increase resilience of an integrated urban wastewater system does not guarantee a universal improvement in sustainability. Therefore, when proposing measures to increase resilience, the potential effects on sustainability should be considered also. It is also shown that the extent of any negative effects on system sustainability can vary significantly depending on future conditions, with the case study intervention (increasing pump capacity) achieving the highest degree of sustainability if rainfall depths or imperviousness in the catchments reduce. However, trade-offs between sustainability indicators are present irrespective of future conditions. Furthermore, while an intervention that enhances resilience may be considered sustainable with respect to specific indicators under current conditions, tipping points exist and it will cease to be sustainable if future threat magnitudes exceed these.