New insights into the sustainable use of natural resources in human systems can be gained through comparison with ecosystems via common indices. In both kinds of system, resources are processed by a number of users within a network, but we consider ecosystems as the only ones displaying sustainable patterns of growth and development. We applied Network Analysis (NA) for assessing the sustainability of a Danish municipal Water Management System (WMS). We identified water users within the WMS and represented their interactions as a network of water flows. We computed intensive and extensive indices of system-level performance for seven different network configurations illustrating past conditions (2004-2008) and future scenarios (2015 and 2020). These indices allowed comparing the WMS with 24 human systems and 12 ecosystems. The results of the NA reveal that the WMS differs from ecosystems: it is highly efficient at processing the water resource, but the rigid and almost linear structure makes it vulnerable in situations of stress such as heavy rain events. The analysis of future scenarios showed a trend towards increased sustainability, but differences between past and expected future performance of the WMS are marginal. We argue that future interventions should create alternative pathways for reusing rainwater within the WMS, increasing its potential to withstand the occurrence of flooding.
Journal of Environmental Management, 2013, Vol 118, p. 21-31