Novel Decision Model for Delivering Sustainable Infrastructure Solutions – An Australian Case Study

Novel Decision Model for Delivering Sustainable Infrastructure Solutions – An Australian Case Study

K. Meney L. Pantelic 

Syrinx Environmental PL, Australia

31 August 2015
| Citation



Conventional approaches to water supply and wastewater treatment in regional towns globally are failing due to population growth and resource pressure, combined with prohibitive costs of infrastructure upgrades. However, there are complexities associated with implementing sustainable infrastructure solutions, and a need to simplify the decision making process to equally compare alternatives to business-as-usual solutions. The aim of this study was to develop a model which could assist in delivering sustainable infrastructure solu- tions in regional towns (and elsewhere) to facilitate growth and/or reduce the burden on limited resources. The developed model (Sustainable Infrastructure Decision Model, SIDM©) ultimately organises intelligent inputs (from expert stakeholders and quantitative calculations) systematically and holistically in order to compare relative impacts, risks, costs, and benefits of varying solutions. In this sense, it deviates both from the ‘black box’ designs of many other sustainability tools, which requires trust of hidden data and formulas and from heuristic approaches that often ‘set up’ a subjective game of bias between stakeholders. Rather, SIDM© is based on a transdisciplinary system approach which facilitates informed decisions in a transparent manner. It links water, wastewater, energy, and waste (resource flows) along with stakeholders (consumers, producers), the receiving environment (receptors), and governing systems (managers, politicians, regulators, financers). Key to the approach is the use of local context analysis as a ‘design’ driver, along with equal consideration of stakeholder intent, capacity, and commitment. The model also includes an economic analysis and risk-based evaluation process to ensure that the preferred solution is optimised to the environmental, social, economic, and political setting of a particular town. The SIDM© model was applied to a rapidly growing Australian township (Hopetoun) with complex resource and infrastructure constraints, which is described in this paper as a case study. Use of SIDM© resulted in an agreed decentralised solution which was approxi- mately half of the cost of a conventional solution, with considerable water and energy savings and unanimous stakeholder support. Since this project, SIDM© has been applied to other regional towns and urban developments in Australia.


Energy, multicriteria analysis, sustainability decision model, sustainable infrastructure, wastewater, water


[1] Tchobanoglous, G., Darby, J., Ruppe, L. & Leverenz, H., Decentralized wastewater management: challenges and opportunities for the twenty-first century. Water Science & Technology: Water Supply, 4(1), pp. 95–102, 2004.

[2] Ho, G., Small water and wastewater systems: pathways to sustainable development? Water Science & Technology, 48(11–12), pp. 7–14, 2003.

[3] Gardner, E.A., Some examples of water recycling in Australian urban environments: a step towards environmental sustainability. Water Supply, 3(4), pp. 21–31, 2003.

[4] Wilderer, P.A. & Schreff, D., Decentralized and centralized wastewater management: a challenge for technology developers. Water Science & Technology, 41(1), pp. 1–8, 2000.

[5] Livingston, D., Colebatch, H.K. & Ashbolt, N.J., Institutional barriers to decentralised systems. Water, Journal of the Australian Water Association, 33(3), pp. 84–86, 2006.

[6] Livingston, D.J., Stenekes, N.A., Colebatch, H.K., Ashbolt, N.J. & Waite, T.D., Water recycling and decentralised management: the policy and organisational challenges for innovative approaches. 2004 International Conference on Water Sensitive Urban Design, presented at International Conference on Water Sensitive Urban Design, Adelaide, 21–25 November, 2004.

[7] Syme, G.J. & Nancarrow, B.E., Changing attitudes to urban water use and consumption (Chapter 33). Transitions: Pathways towards Sustainable Urban Development in Australia, ed. P.W. Newton, CSIRO Publishing Collingwood, pp. 509–519, 2008.

[8] Anderson, J., The environmental benefits of water recycling and reuse. Water Science and Technology: Water Supply, 3(4), pp. 1–10, 2003.

[9] Sharma, A.K., Cook, S. & Chong, M.N., Monitoring and validation of decentralised water and wastewater systems for increased uptake. Water Science & Technology, 67(11), pp. 2576–2581, 2013. doi:

[10] Wang, X.A., Proposal and application of the integrated benefit assessment model for urban water resources exploitation and utilization. Water Resources Management, 23, pp. 1171–1182, 2009.

[11] Makropoulos, C.K., Natsis, K., Liu, S., Mittas, K. & Butler, D. Decision support for sustainable option selection in integrated urban water management. Environmental Modelling & Software, 23(12), pp. 1448–1460, 2008. doi:

[12] Lim, S.-R., Suh, S., Kim, J.-H. & Park, H.S., Urban water infrastructure optimization to reduce environmental impacts and costs. Journal of Environmental Management, 91(3), pp. 630–637, 2010. doi:

[13] Willuweit, L. & O’Sullivan, J.J., A decision support tool for sustainable planning of urban water systems: presenting the dynamic urban water simulation model. Water Research, 47(20), pp. 7206–7220, 2013. doi:

[14] Schulz, M., Short, M.D. & Peters, G.M., A streamlined sustainability assessment tool for improved decision making in the urban water industry. Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management, 8(1), pp. 183–193, 2012.

[15] Chen, Z., Ngo, H.H. & Guo, W., A critical review on sustainability assessment of recycled water schemes. Sci Total Environ, 426, pp. 13–31, 2012. doi:

[16] Marlow, D.R., Beale, D.J. & Burn, S., A pathway to a more sustainable water sector: sustainability-based asset management. Water Science & Technology, 61(5), pp. 1245–1255, 2010. doi:

[17] Saaty, T.L., Decision Making for Leaders – The Analytic Hierarchy Process for Decisions in a Complex World, 3rd edn., RWS Publications: USA, 2001.

[18] Water Services Association of Australia, Guide to Demand Management: The Urban Water Planning Framework, WSAA Occasional Paper No.18, February 2008.

[19] Brown, R., Farrelly, M. & Keath, N., Summary Report: Perceptions of Institutional Drivers and Barriers to Sustainable Urban Water Management in Australia, Report No. 07/06, National Urban Water Governance Program, Monash University, 2007.

[20] Sahely, H., Kennedy, C. & Adams, B., Developing sustainability criteria for urban infrastructure systems. Canadian Journal of Civil Engineering, 32(1), pp. 72–85, 2005. doi:

[21] Bolger, R., Monsma, D. & Nelson. R., Sustainable Water Systems: Step One—Redefining the Nation’s Infrastructure Challenge, A report of the Aspen Institute’s Dialogue on Sustainable Water Infrastructure in the U.S., May 2009.

[22] Apostolidis, N., Hertle, C. & Young, R., Water recycling in Australia. Water, 3, pp. 869–881, 2011. doi:

[23] Mitchell, V.G., Applying integrated urban water management concepts: a review of Australian experience. Environ. Manag., 37(5), pp. 589–605, 2006. doi:

[24] Hurlimann, A. & Dolnicar, S., When public opposition defeats alternative water projects—the case of Toowoomba, Australia. Water Research, 44(1), pp. 287–297, 2010. doi:

[25] Robèrt, K.H., Schmidt-Bleek, B., Aloisi de Larderel, J., Basile, G., Jansen, J.L., Kuehr, R., Price Thomas, P., Suzuki, M., Hawken, P. & Wackernagel, M., Strategic sustainable development—selection, design and synergies of applied tools. Journal of Cleaner Production, 10(3), pp. 197–214, 2002. doi:

[26] Pearson, L.J., Coggan, A., Proctor, W. & Smith, T.F., A sustainable decision support framework for urban water management. Water Resources Management, 24(2), pp. 363–376, 2010.

[27] Saaty, T.L., Decision making with the analytic hierarchy process. International Journal of Services Sciences, 1(1), pp. 83–98, 2008. doi:

[28] American Institute of Chemical Engineers’ Center for Waste Reduction Technologies (AIChE CWRT), Total Cost Assessment Methodology, AIChE: New York, NY, 1999.

[29] Brink, C. & van Grinsven, H., Costs and benefits of nitrogen in the environment. The European Nitrogen Assessment, ed. M.A. Sutton, C.M. Howard, J.W. Erisman, G. Billen, A. Bleeker, P. Grennfelt, H. van Grinsven & B. Grizzetti, Cambridge University Press, pp. 513–540, 2011.

[30] Birch, M.B.L., Gramig, B.M., Moomaw, W.R., Doering, O.C., III & Reeling, C.J., Why metrics matter: evaluating policy choices for reactive nitrogen in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Environmental Science and Technology, 45 (1), pp. 168–174, 2011. doi:

[31] Compton, J.E., Harrison, J.A., Dennis, R.L., Greaver, T.L., Hill, B.H., Jordan, S.J., Walker, H. & Campbell, H.V., Ecosystem services altered by human changes in the nitrogen cycle: a new perspective for US decision making. Ecology Letters, 14, pp. 804–815, 2011. doi:

[32] Katie Steele, K., Carmel, Y., Cross, J. & Wilcox, C., Uses and misuses of multicriteria decision analysis (MCDA) in environmental decision making. Risk Analysis, 29 (1), pp. 26–33, 2009. doi:

[33] Hämäläinen, R.P. & Alaja, S., The threat of weighting biases in environmental decision analysis. Ecological Economics, 68 (1–2), pp. 556–569, 2008. doi:

[34] Rowley, H.V., Peters, G.M, Sven Lundie, S. & Moore, S.J., Aggregating sustainability indicators: beyond the weighted sum. Journal of Environmental Management, 111, pp. 24–33, 2012. doi:

[35] Department of Climate Change, National Greenhouse Accounts (NGA) Factors. Updating and replacing the AGO Factors and Methods Workbook, Commonwealth of Australia, January 2008.

[36] Daniels, P., Porter, M., Bodsworth, P. & Coleman, S., Externalities in Sustainable Regional Water Strategies: A Compendium of Externality Impacts and Valuations, Urban Water Security Research Alliance Technical Report No. 42, 2012.

[37] European Commission, External Costs, Research results on socio-environmental damages due to electricity and transport (EUR 20198), Office for Official Publications of the European Communities: Luxembourg, p. 14, 2003.

[38] Plant, R., Herriman, J. & Atherton, A., The Full Spectrum of Costs and Benefits: Valuing Melbourne’s Urban Water Externalities, Discussion Paper Prepared for the Victorian Smart Water Fund by the Institute for Sustainable Futures, Sydney, 12 April, 2007 (Final).

[39] Government of Western Australia, Securing Our Water Future: A State Water Strategy for Western Australia, 2003.