The human dimensions of water supply planning problems

David Gold, postdoctoral researcher in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, has been awarded the National Outstanding Dissertation Prize for Natural Science and Engineering by the Universities Council on Water Resources (UCOWR).

Gold’s research focuses on infrastructure planning under conditions of uncertainty, such as those stemming from climate change and population growth. A key focus of his work is the human dimensions of water supply planning problems, including equity, power dynamics, and financial risk. His Ph.D. dissertation is titled “Advancing regional water supply planning to develop robust, adaptive, equitable, and cooperatively stable infrastructure investment and management pathways.”

“My dissertation introduces new tools to help urban water utilities confront challenges from climate change and population growth,” Gold said. The work develops new methods to account for the human dimensions of water supply planning problems that are often absent or under-represented in traditional modeling frameworks. 

These new methods draw on tools from artificial intelligence, high performance computing, and interactive visual analytics to explore trade-offs between conflicting system objectives, map power relationships between regional partners, and identify equitable cooperative compromises.

“Our results highlight the benefits of regional cooperation but also reveal new sources of vulnerabilities that emerge when utilities enter into cooperative agreements,” Gold explained. “These findings can help water utilities craft cooperative agreements that maintain robust performance across a wide range of future conditions and minimize the potential for regional conflict.”

Gold works with Patrick Reed, the Joseph C. Ford Professor of Engineering, in the Decision Analytics for Complex Systems group.

Each year, UCOWR recognizes Ph.D. dissertations on water issues. Gold’s dissertation won in the Natural Science and Engineering category. Recipients receive a cash prize and present their research during the annual UCOWR conference.

Other Articles of Interest