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Author ORCID Identifier


Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Civil and Environmental Engineering

Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Casey Brown

Second Advisor

Colin Gleason

Third Advisor

Anita Milman

Fourth Advisor

Patrick Reed

Subject Categories

Natural Resources Management and Policy | Other Civil and Environmental Engineering | Systems Engineering | Systems Science | Water Resource Management


Water supply systems, particularly those of large cities, are complex systems linking supply, regulatory and distribution infrastructure, and points of use. Despite their physical complexities, it is infrequent that full supply, distribution, end use, and feedbacks therein are considered in an integrated manner. These complex systems-of-systems face large uncertainties related to physical aspects such as degradation of infrastructure, changing demand, and climate variability and change. Though great, such physical uncertainties often pale in comparison to the those related to the human systems in place to manage them and yet uncertainty in the decision-making landscape is often grossly simplified in our problem formulations. This dissertation explores the application of novel problem framings and analytics to assist in investment decision making processes to improve system performance in a complex system-of-systems. This dissertation co-evolved with a six-year participatory planning process for investment planning in one of the world’s most populous cities, Mexico City. This process included the modeling of the city’s conjunctive supply system of systems—each complex and with their own individual challenges and management priorities—as well as eleven official stakeholder workshops and countless meetings with partner institutions. It also occurred amid a large political transition that affected priorities and personnel of nearly all of these partner institutions. The questions posed and answered in this dissertation are inspired by the complex physical, social and political backdrop that this process provided. This dissertation is organized in three chapters, each of which addresses a gap in the literature corresponding to problems faced in the broader planning process. Chapter 1 addresses the current paradigm of metric definition which relies largely on user-defined thresholds. Specifically, we present a method for threshold selection based on the detection of critical system thresholds for application in contexts where user specification of thresholds itself may be uncertain or undesirable. Chapter 2 turns to the institutional landscape of our water systems and asks how we can assess which relationships are most influential to achieving management objectives now and in a changing climate. This is answered by combining sensitivity analysis techniques and overlaying institutional networks onto the physical water system. Finally, Chapter 3 addresses the issue of bias and vested interests in the definition of investment options by presenting a framework and tools based on recent advances in high dimensional sensitivity analysis techniques to diagnose sources of system robustness prior to definition of options.


Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License