David F. Gold,Patrick M. Reed,David E. Gorelick,Gregory W. Characklis
Cooperative management of natural resources is a key component of a transition to a sustainable society and urban water supply planning is a prime example. Regional cooperation among urban water utilities is a powerful mechanism for improving supply reliability and financial stability in urban water supply systems. Through coordinated drought mitigation and joint infrastructure investment, water utilities can efficiently exploit existing water supplies and reduce or delay the need for new supply infrastructure. However, cooperative water management brings new challenges for planning and implementation. The benefits of cooperation may not be uniformly distributed across cooperating partners, resulting in the “instability” of cooperative compromises. Further, cooperation may add new vulnerabilities for each partner by imbuing their cooperating partners with the power to impact their performance through policy actions. Power imbalances stemming from these vulnerabilities can lead to conflict between cooperating partners that destabilize otherwise robust planning alternatives. This work contributes a new exploratory modeling centered framework for assessing cooperative stability and mapping power relationships in cooperative infrastructure investment and water supply management policies. Our framework uses multi-objective optimization as an exploratory tool to discover how cooperating partners may be incentivized to defect from robust regional water supply partnerships and identifies how the actions of each regional partner shape the vulnerability of its cooperating partners. Our methodology is demonstrated on the Sedento Valley, a highly challenging hypothetical regional urban water supply benchmarking problem. Our results reveal complex regional power relationships between the region’s cooperating partners and suggest ways to improve cooperative stability.