Commute Sheds as a Regional Water Management Decision Tool

Commute Sheds as a Regional Water Management Decision Tool | Masters Thesis | Ben Young Landis | 2009 | Duke University


Water supply is no longer just a function of individual communities.
Clearly, it’s a regional issue.

Syd Miller
Water Resources Program Manager
Triangle J Council of Governments

The Upper Neuse River Basin in North Carolina is currently under close scrutiny by municipal water managers and local government leaders. Recent, severe droughts are forcing municipalities that rely on the Basin to adopt water conservation measures and negotiate water transfer sales. Municipal water supply and sewer treatment infrastructure in the Basin are aged — with some pipelines over 80 years old — and due for costly repairs, upgrades, and expansions to meet regulatory standards and future service projections (Holman 2008). Intertwined with these issues is the fact that the Upper Neuse Basin provides water resources for some of the most populous and economically-productive municipalities in North Carolina, and is facing heavy urban development pressures: Raleigh-Cary is now the fastest growing metropolitan area in the United States (Collins 2009).

The towns and cities of the Upper Neuse differ in their ability to respond to these issues. Hillsborough, a hamlet of 5,000, and Raleigh, the state capital with nearly 400,000 residents, will have very different bond ratings; sizes of budgets and tax revenue; and differences in the scale of capital repairs. Nevertheless, their respective, unresolved issues will affect the same, shared watershed. To appropriately allocate this single, scarce resource amongst towns of vastly different supplies and demands, Upper Neuse governments and stakeholders are beginning to cooperate in decision making efforts. Raleigh and Durham are particularly thirsty for water, and to sustain themselves for the long term, the two cities are looking to each other for possible water sharing arrangements. They are also looking to other Upper Neuse water sources and regional water sources for help. Now more than ever, municipal governments want to know “how much more water can I buy or sell, and is it worth the cost?” Water valuation studies and hydrologic modeling research can provide this answer, but often take tremendous amounts of time and funding, causing delays in stakeholder discussion efforts.

Throughout the nation, this scene is repeated in many urban watersheds. Stakeholders within a watershed or region share common problems and observe a need for collaborative, integrated watershed management agreements, but require timely access to information and analytical tools that are can be easily communicated and understood by all. Clearly, water resource managers need a toolkit of simple decision support methods that will help steer and educate regional dialogs and negotiations until more detailed data is available.

A conceptual framework from the field of labor economics may be a promising candidate for adaptation as a regional water management decision tool. “Commute shed analysis” may facilitate inquiries on the interconnectivity of human water usage within a watershed, and trace the source and sink of virtual benefits of water supply and water infrastructure. By visualizing these virtual flows, regional managers can better understand how water resources and benefits are already being shared and connected, informing cost and benefit analysis for new water transfer agreements or joint-financing of infrastructure projects.

Here, I investigate a recently developed, publicly accessible software application that generates commute shed data in detailed scale, and assess its utility for informing regional water management efforts. The Upper Neuse River Basin will serve as a case study.

CONTINUE READING: Regional Water Management: Goals and Barriers