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

Problem Definition

Clearly, there is a great demand for good information and conceptual frameworks to help water planners construct a firm foundation towards regional water supply management. Local water and sewer utility managers are beginning to explore regional partnerships, and there will be a need for:

  • Realizing the true boundaries of a given watershed, from the hydrologic units to the political delineations, and to more abstract borders shaped by the flows and sinks of water benefits embedded in water-dependent products (i.e. humans).
  • Using this holistic view of the watershed boundary to identify all relevant stakeholders, even if their connection to this particular water resource is not readily apparent.
  • Tracking and measuring the source and flow of these real resources and virtual services, to provide actionable information for all decision makers.

To date, few tools exist for water resource managers to assess the flows of virtual services and externalities. Non-market valuation techniques can estimate the social value of water quality and water supply benefits, but require time-intensive survey studies and statistical expertise to generate original data, or depend on the existence of comparable studies to utilize benefit transfer methods. Virtual water accounting methods are fairly standardized, but their intent is to quantify the volume of water investments embedded in consumable commodities and products.

Prospective partners have a need for comprehensive understanding of costs and benefits for proposed transactions when negotiating multi-party agreements, particularly when the transactions involve significant cost-bearing environmental projects such as water infrastructure investments. Water resource managers need new, simple decision support tools that will help steer and inform regional dialogs and negotiations and complement existing financial and environmental assessment methodology.

Could commute shed analysis offer this additional perspective for watershed managers? Given the extraordinary detail and customizable research options of the OnTheMap application, there is potential utility for this labor economic tool to be applied in the watershed management context. The purpose of my project is to investigate the commute shed analysis functions in OnTheMap, and in the conceptual framework of virtual water benefits analysis, assess whether this online tool could provide data helpful to regional water management efforts in the Upper Neuse River Basin.