OPTIMA: Optimisation   for Sustainable
Water Resources Management

Project Objectives

Water is a key resource in the Mediterranean region, and efficient use and allocation are paramount to sustainable development, in particular in the coastal zone of the South and East, undergoing fast economic development, land use and demographic change.

The overall aim of OPTIMA is to develop, implement, test, critically evaluate, and exploit an innovative, scientifically rigorous yet practical approach to water resources management, in close cooperation with local and regional stakeholders, intended to increase efficiencies and to reconcile conflicting demands based on the European Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC). The approach equally considers economic efficiency, environmental compatibility, and social equity as the pillars of sustainable development. The project realises both the importance if not dominance of the socio-political and economic aspects, but also the importance of a reliable, consistent, and shared information basis for the policy and decision making process. Empowerment through scientifically based but policy relevant information is a key concept (AG 21, Chapter 40).

The proposed methodology will extend classical optimisation and mathematical programming methodology in several respects, by:

  • Developing the objectives, criteria and constraints in close cooperation with stakeholders and actors in an interactive approach, with emphasis to socio-economic structures and gender where feasible and scientifically meaningful;
  • Using a full-featured dynamic and distributed simulation model and genetic programming as the core to generate feasible and non-dominated alternatives. Water technology alternatives including their cost structure, and up-to-date remote-sensing derived land use information are primary inputs;
  • Extending the set of objectives, criteria and constraints through expert systems technology to include difficult to quantify environmental and social dimensions;
  • Putting specific emphasis on local acceptance and implementation through the inclusion of stake-holders in an interactive, participatory decision making process carefully embedded in institutional structures, using a discrete multi-criteria reference point methodology. The formal approach provides a rational basis for policy and decision making, empowerment and legitimacy through information;
  • Comparative evaluation and benchmarking across the set of local and regional case studies in 7 countries, namely Cyprus, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Tunisia, and Morocco around the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean.
The project also aims at building a wide dissemination network of expertise and knowledge exchange sharing its findings, generic data, and best practise examples.

Scientific and technological objectives of the project and state of the art

Water is clearly a key resource in the Mediterranean region, and the coastal zone in particular. The river basin is a central unit of assessment and management, as detailed in the Water Framework Directive (WFD, 2000/60/EC). European environmental policies, as exemplified by the WFD are increasingly oriented towards economic efficiency -- which makes optimisation the method of choice -- the full recovery of the costs such as the costs of water services, and the polluter pays principle. Extended by the principles of environmental compatibility, distributional equity, and the constraints of administrative, regulatory and enforcement efficiency, and general political and socio-cultural feasibility - addressed through a participatory interactive approach - this provides a set of broad policy objectives and associated criteria that extend classical techno-economic optimisation into a truly multi-objective and multi-criteria approach.

The overall aim is to develop, implement and test a new, effective, scientific rigorous but practical approach to water resources management in the coastal zone, where the region experiences rapid economic development, land use and demographic change. The objective is to reconcile conflicting demands on scarce natural resources, and reduce pressures by increased efficiency. With reference to the EU Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC), the approach is designed to reconcile economic efficiency, environmental compatibility, and social equity as the pillars of sustainable development.

Under section B1.1 the INCO work programme states:

The primary general objectives include: Developing comprehensive Decision Support Systems (DSS) through the use of area wide Geographical Information Systems (GIS) combined with remote sensing capabilities in support of policy analysis and enforcement as appropriate.
The proposal addresses this primary general objective with the following specific objectives:
  • To develop an Integrated Decision Support System (DSS) and approach for efficient, sustainable water management based on simulation, optimisation, and expert systems technology, that links environmental, technological, economic, and socio-cultural and institutional aspects in a consistent framework, in close cooperation with local stakeholders and major actors.
  • To test the DSS in a participatory implementation in several case studies across the region in each of the participating Mediterranean Partner Countries Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Tunisia, and Morocco, as well as Turkey and Cyprus.
  • To define strategies and solutions to increase efficiency and effectively reconcile conflicting water use in the coastal zone considering demographic development, migration, economic and technological development, and land use change utilizing GIS and remote sensing data where appropriate;
  • To address a broad range of interrelated issues of the management of scarce water resources and integrated coastal zone development by extending classical cost-benefit concepts into a truly multi-criteria, multi-objective approach.
  • To implement the set of DSS tools in a participatory approach for broad and inclusive stakeholder participation, networking, and institutional involvement, using advanced information technology in the spirit of Agenda 21's chapter 40. This addresses the program priority "Citizens and governance in a knowledge-based society".
  • To bridge the gap between numerical optimisation and its simplifications, and an inclusive, detailed and natural representation of dynamic and spatially distributed practical resource management problems that can directly support decision making processes.
  • To facilitate the process of defining the concept of optimality as a shared community vision in the decision making process by an interactive and participatory approach, based on compromise and trade-off.
  • To test approach and tools in a number of different locations in different countries around the Mediterranean to distil generic guidelines and best practice for efficient, sustainable water management with reference to the EU Water Framework Directive.
  • To develop and implement an efficient public information and dissemination system, primarily based on various mechanisms including the Internet, to share the project findings and involve all stake holder groups, locally and across the region.
  • To foster the cooperation between European and Mediterranean country research groups in a large consortium including 13 teams from 11 countries, and the communication and cooperation between research groups and the policy making process and its numerous actors and stakeholders.

Detailed specific scientific and technological objectives

Within this more generic framework, OPTIMA addresses a number of specific scientific objectives:
  • To build, and test in a number of parallel comparative case studies, a consistent and well integrated set of advanced but practical DSS tools for efficient, "optimal" water management strategies and policies of use, designed for a participatory public decision making process.
  • To extend the classical techno-economic approach by explicit consideration and inclusion in the two-phase optimisation methodology of acceptance and implementation criteria, where the method not only helps to generate optimal solutions, but facilitates the process of agreeing on what exactly optimal means in any particular case, as a shared community vision, including gender sensitive issues where feasible.
  • To develop a generic approach to combine engineering analysis and formal optimisation with socio-economic considerations in a unifying and consistent multi-criteria multi-objective framework.
  • To integrate expert systems technology and heuristics with complex simulation and optimisation models to improve their usability in data poor and data constrained application situations.
  • To develop appropriate tools and methods for the communication of complex technical information to a broad range of participants and stakeholders in the policy making process, based on classical workshops and Internet technology, and in particular the easy and efficient elicitation of preferences and trade-offs in an interactive, reference point approach.
  • To adapt and further develop formal methods of optimisation for highly complex, non-linear, dynamic, and spatially distributed systems that are non-differentiable by applying heuristics, genetic programming combined with local stochastic gradient methods and post-optimal analysis for large scale discrete multi-criteria problems.
An important feature of the Mediterranean region and the immediate coastal zone in the South and East in particular is that water is a key limiting resource for sustainable development, increased quality of life and ultimately peace. Recognising the severity of this limitation to sustainable development, the objective is to build efficient yet appropriate tools for optimal and generally acceptable solutions that exploit all factors likely to reduce pressure on water resources and avoid irreversible damage within the local socio-political and institutional systems.

Integrated water management as described under the EU Water Framework Directive 2000/60/EC and in particular in the Mediterranean coastal zone requires a balanced consideration of numerous aspects including both the socio-economic and the physical, environmental domain. While this principle is well understood and much discussed, it is rarely implemented in practice.

The scientific literature in the domain is voluminous; while classical texts have often stressed the engineering aspects of the problem and concepts of optimality concentrating on technical and economic efficiency, the importance of the socio-economic participatory policy and decision making processes have been ignored. Effective decision making processes leading to efficient solutions need informed participants, actors or stake holders - this empowerment through information and the role of information for policy and decision making are important topics addressed in the Agenda 21, and related European policy documents and directives such as the Water Framework Directive 2000/60/EC, or 2003/4/EC (public access to environmental information).

The starting point for the project is on the one hand the obvious water scarcity and constraint to development experienced in the Mediterranean countries. On the other hand and despite the progress made over the last two decades, classical optimisation methods when applied to complex, non-linear, dynamic, spatially distributed systems and models face serious limitations in that effective optimisation usually involves considerable simplifications. At the same time, optimisation is usually performed considering one or very few dimensions, usually water and economic efficiency and fails to take economic, technological, environmental and social considerations into account simultaneous. Also, the complexity of the classical mathematical programming methodologies makes it difficult if not impossible to involve actors and stake-holders directly and interactively, so that the actual acceptance and implementation of what is designed as optimal but with insufficient participation by stakeholders often fails.

All these shortcomings and restrictions OPTIMA will address with a novel, multi-step and iterative approach to optimization that extends classical approaches by:

  1. Deriving preference structures, issues, criteria, objectives and constraints in an interactive process with active participation with stakeholders and major actors. Wherever feasible, the concepts and questions will be gender specific for a broader social perspective;
  2. Basing the first step of optimisation on the full detail and resolution of a dynamic water resources simulation model embedded in a hybrid genetic programming framework, made possible by the exploitation of more and more powerful yet affordable computer hardware;
  3. Extending the set of dimensions considered in the optimisation by socio-economic and environmental objectives, criteria and constraints into a comprehensive multi-criteria representation;
  4. By adding a second, participatory and interactive phase that defines the trade-offs to select an optimal solution from the set of feasible, non-dominated alternatives generated in the first step by a discrete, multi-criteria reference point methodology, that facilitates finding trade-offs and compromise solutions and thus defining the concept of optimality for broad acceptance.

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