Evaluation of the sustainability of controlling diffuse water pollution in urban areas on a life cycle basis

  • Claudia Tomasini Montenegro

Student thesis: Phd


Diffuse water pollution in urban areas is growing due to polluted runoffs. Therefore, there is a need to treat this kind of pollution. Different structural treatment practices can be used for these purposes. However, little is known about their environmental, economic and social impacts. Therefore, the aim of this study has been to develop an integrated methodology for sustainability evaluation of structural treatment practices, considering environmental, economic and social aspects. Both environmental and economic evaluations have been carried out on a life cycle basis, using life cycle assessment and life cycle costing, respectively. For social evaluation, a number of social indicators, identified and developed in this research, have been used. The methodology has been applied to the case of the Magdalena river catchment in Mexico City. Three structural treatment practices have been analysed: bio-retention unit, infiltration trench and porous pavement. Based on the assumptions and the results from this work, the bio-retention unit appears to be environmentally the most sustainable option for treatment of diffuse water pollution. It is also the second-best option for social sustainability, slightly behind the porous pavement. However, if the costs of treatment are the priority, then the porous pavement would be the cheapest option. If all the sustainability aspects evaluated here are considered of equal importance, then the bio-retention unit is the most sustainable option.Therefore, trade-offs between the different sustainability aspects are important and should be considered carefully before any decisions are made on diffuse water pollution treatment. This also includes the trade-offs with the additional life cycle impacts generated by the treatment options compared to the impacts from the untreated runoff. The decisions can only be made by the appropriate stakeholders; however, some recommendations are given, based on the outcomes of this research.
Date of Award1 Aug 2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorAdisa Azapagic (Supervisor)


  • life cycle assessment, diffuse water pollution, life cycle costing
  • bio-retention unit, infiltration trench, porous pavement

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