OPTIMA: Optimisation   for Sustainable
Water Resources Management

Potential Impacts

Contributions to standards

One of the areas of work that may contribute to standards is in the land use and land cover analysis from remote sensing data. While this will primarily based on existing examples like CORINE, the specific use for the estimation of land cover specific water demand will have to be based on a common set of standards across the case studies and the partners primarily providing remote sensing data and analysis (Lebanon, Tunisia).

While the project will use European and international standards, e.g., on drinking water quality, wherever applicable, it will not directly contribute to the definition or setting of standards other than as described above.

Contribution to policy developments

Water is clearly a key resource in the Mediterranean region, and the coastal zone in particular. Every contribution to a better, more efficient management will have a positive impact on the region and its potential for sustainable development.

The proposed project is expected to have impacts in the Mediterranean region by:

  • Directly contributing to better water management strategies in the seven case study countries and on the region as a whole through appropriate dissemination mechanisms;
  • Providing a set of tools and an approach for the design of efficient, environmentally and socially compatible water management strategies, in line with the concepts of the EU Water Framework Directives, but adapted to the local setting of each of the case studies;
  • Establishing networks of actors and stakeholders concerned with water management, both within each case study area as well as across the region, facilitating an exchange of experience and best practice in the region.
The second European-Mediterranean Ministerial Conference on the Environment held on 10 July 2002 in Athens, Greece, adopted a declaration on integrating the environment into the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership. The Declaration "acknowledges that environmental considerations need to be better integrated into Euro-Mediterranean Partnership policies, programs and projects at regional and national levels to promote sustainable development." To this end the Conference adopted a 'framework for a Euro-Mediterranean Strategy for Environmental Integration' whose main thrust is the development of individual environmental strategies within each priority sector for regional economic co-operation (water, industry, energy, transport, and information society). The strategies should have a four to five year duration, and include common elements such as an analysis of the sector's impact on the environment, qualitative or quantitative targets, timetables for actions, and indicators of performance.

Within this framework, expected impacts will relate directly to EU policy regarding the management of water resources by providing powerful tools for resource management policy analysis that links the approaches described in the EU Water Framework Directive, and the Euro-Mediterranean partnership with national water policies in Turkey, Cyprus, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Tunisia, Malta and Morocco. The Directive 2000/60/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 October 2000 (WFD) establishes a framework for Community action in the field of water policy. This directive is primarily concerned with the quality of water resources and does not deal with the management of scarce water resources directly. However, the control regime for water quantity regulation that is introduced will be carefully assessed for its applicability in the study areas. In particular, the principles of full cost recovery and polluter pays that are established by this directive will be policy reference points for evaluating economic efficiency and technical feasibility in water management scenarios.

The measures that are a requirement under Article 11 describe controls for the abstraction of groundwater and also include measures to promote the efficient and sustainable use of water. The OPTIMA project focuses on water scarce countries will result in a set of best practice guidelines that will contribute to developing European know how in designing sustainable solutions. The Euro-Mediterranean Conference on water management held in Marseilles 25th and 26 of November 1996, the Declaration of the Euro-Mediterranean Ministerial Conference on local water management Turin, 18-19 October 1999, and the resulting Turin Action Plan are the cornerstone documents that describe European policy for water resources in the Mediterranean, and will form a strong basis for analytic work.

Innovative and efficient tools and an approach, forming a comprehensive integrated decision support system for the analysis and operational management of complex natural resources systems implementing concepts of applied systems analysis are the expected product: emphasis on practical implementation through the careful screening of alternatives, consideration of the institutional framework, and the direct involvement of stake holders in the decision making process are designed to maximize the impact of project results.

To that end, the project directly involves and addresses local and regional government as well as institutions involved in the water sector, including private industry. In addition, it involves elements of the civic society such as NGOs as the ultimate end users or end user representatives of water resources management policies for sustainable development as a balance to purely economic considerations market forces as major controlling element in development and any sustainable resource management strategy.

The efficient management of scarce water resources requires a balanced consideration of numerous aspects including environmental, techno-economic, and socio-political aspects. The complexity of the problem, the large number of possible measures and their combinations, nonlinearities and uncertainties make intuitive solutions impossible, so that formal methods of decision support based on optimisation techniques are necessary for the design of successful, efficient solutions.

The project is expected to contribute to these major elements of water resources management:

  • Guaranteeing sufficient, regular and safe water supplies by optimising the demand-supply balance with emphasis not only on efficiency, but also reliability;
  • Efficient and effective water distribution systems based on the optimisation of water technologies and allocation policies; and,
  • Equitable use of shared water resources between competing uses, by considering both economic efficiency and social equity as criteria in the optimisation approach.
DSS based on optimisation technologies are a central element of operations research, and an established technology in water resources research. Their practical applicability for complex problems, however, is limited by the fact that efficient optimisation requires a sometimes gross simplification (usually based on linearization) of the problem to arrive at an optimal solution with guaranteed convergence. A secondary problem is that the formalisation and related abstraction and simplifications make assumptions and results difficult to understand and communicate, which hinders broad participation in the decision making process and thuds often generates barriers to the actual implementation of technically optimal solutions. Brute forward numerical optimisation, based on simulation modelling can retain a sufficiently detailed, realistic description. However, the combinatorial explosion of alternatives makes an exhaustive search of the decision space impossible for even moderately complex problems.

An alternative is the introduction of domain specific heuristics in a multi-tiered approach, using rule-based expert systems, and genetic algorithms, which can make the search much more efficient than traditional methods. Iterating between different levels of aggregation and representation, evolutionary strategies and local stochastic gradient search, a screening level approach and the use of evolutionary concepts of good enough rather than optimal can lead to efficient solutions even for very complex and large-scale problems.

This innovative approach to the optimisation of complex, non-linear, distributed and dynamic systems is embedded in a framework of interactive, participatory decision support based on a secondary layer of discrete multi-criteria optimisation. Using a reference point approach to simplify the expression of preferences and trade-offs, this combined method supports interactive, exploratory use and easy integration in the policy making process.

For the OPTIMA project this means the smooth integration of advanced quantitative optimisation tools into the socio-political, economic and environmental framework of regional development planning and public policy with its uncertainties, qualitative criteria, and conflicting objectives.

The main innovative elements that will contribute to the impacts of the project include:

  • A truly multi-criteria problem representation through the combination of numerical simulation of water resources systems with socio-economic elements through rule-based expert systems technology for assessment and qualitative analysis;
  • An innovative multi-tiered and iterative approach to the optimisation of complex systems that combines local gradient search with a rule-based adaptive strategy selection with heuristics and genetic algorithms for the efficient design of feasible alternatives;
  • The explicit consideration of conflicting objectives, uncertainty, and the necessary political trade-offs and compromises in a second step of discrete multi-criteria optimisation based on the set of feasible alternatives;
  • The direct involvement of end users including the concerned public through the use, inter alia, of the Internet and the support of remote clients;
  • Integration of technical analysis with educational, awareness-building elements for a broad target audience, aiming at the empowerment of a broad range of actors and local stake holders;
  • Long-term sustainability of the project results through direct integration in existing institutional structures including governmental, NGO, and academic institutions as well as the concerned citizen at large.

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