Management, Economics and Policy

Case Studies of Economic Analysis and Community Decision Making for Decentralized Wastewater Systems

Publication Date: December 2004
Cooperating Institution: Rocky Mountain Institute
Principal Investigator: Joel Swisher and Richard Pinkham
Project Budget: $127,579
Project Identifier: WU-HT-02-03


This project will increase understanding of how communities consider and value the benefits and costs of different scale wastewater facility options (onsite, cluster, and centralized options) in dollar or other terms, and examine the driving issues, motivations, thought processes and decision-making methods of stakeholders relative to choices of wastewater system scale. Up to 10 case studies covering seven specific topics that have received little or no attention in the literature to date will be developed. The topics that will be addressed include (1) financial benefits of incremental capacity expansion through implementation of decentralized systems; (2) impacts of wastewater system choices on community growth, development, and autonomy; (3) hydrologic impacts of wastewater systems; (4) implications for fairness and equity within communities; (5) how communities evaluate reliability, vulnerability, and resilience of wastewater systems; (6) the role of wastewater facility decision-making processes in developing positive image and trust in stakeholder/public relationships; and (7) the value of decentralized systems to sanitation utilities that already manage large centralized systems. The investigations will seek both quantitative and qualitative economic and social process information. The research products will include case study synopses and integration of the case study findings into a research report Rocky Mountain Institute is now developing for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. That report is a "catalog" of all issues with potential economic implications that do or should arise as communities choose between centralized or decentralized options for wastewater systems, or that follow from a community's choices. The report will summarize what is known in the existing literature about the economics of each issue and discuss techniques available to put economic values on the benefit or cost each issue presents to communities for different wastewater system choices. The information developed in this research will enable the NDWRCDP to refine its education and training programs, and will support NDWRCDP efforts to assess the economics and improve the management of decentralized wastewater systems.

Associated Documents:

Final Report

Executive Summary