Increasing stress on water resources is driving urban water utilities to establish new concepts for water supply. This paper presents the consequences of proposed alternative water supply options using a unique combination of quantitative and qualitative methods from different research fields. A former industrial harbor area in Copenhagen, Denmark, is currently under development and all infrastructure will be updated to accommodate 40,000 inhabitants and 40,000 jobs in the future. To reduce stress on water resources it has been proposed to establish a secondary water supply in the area as an alternative to the conventional groundwater-based drinking water supply. Four alternative concepts for a secondary water supply have been considered: 1) slightly polluted groundwater for use in toilets and laundry, 2) desalinated brackish water for use in toilets, laundry, and dishwashers, 3) desalinated brackish water for all uses, including drinking water, and 4) local reclamation of rain and gray water for use in toilets and laundry. The concepts have been evaluated for their technical feasibility, economy, health risks, and public acceptance, while the concepts' environmental sustainability has been assessed using lifecycle assessment and freshwater use impact methods. The holistic assessment method exposes conflicting preference solutions depending on assessment criteria, and reveals multi-faceted consequences for choices in urban water management. Not one concept turns out unambiguously positive based on the evaluation criteria included here, but the systematic evaluation will leave decision-makers informed on the consequences of their choices.
Indicators of the impact on freshwater resources are becoming increasingly important in the evaluation of urban water systems. To reveal the importance of spatial resolution, we investigated how the choice of catchment scale influenced the freshwater impact assessment. Two different indicators were used in this study: the Withdrawal-To-Availability ratio (WTA) and the Water Stress Index (WSI). Results were calculated for three groundwater based Danish urban water supplies (Esbjerg, Aarhus, and Copenhagen). The assessment was carried out at three spatial levels: (1) the groundwater body level, (2) the river basin level, and (3) the regional level. The assessments showed that Copenhagen's water supply had the highest impact on the freshwater resource per cubic meter of water abstracted, with a WSI of 1.75 at Level 1. The WSI values were 1.64 for Aarhus's and 0.81 for Esbjerg's water supply. Spatial resolution was identified as a major factor determining the outcome of the impact assessment. For the three case studies, WTA and WSI were 27%-583% higher at Level 1 than impacts calculated for the regional scale. The results highlight that freshwater impact assessments based on regional data, rather than sub-river basin data, may dramatically underestimate the actual impact on the water resource. Furthermore, this study discusses the strengths and shortcomings of the applied indicator approaches. A sensitivity analysis demonstrates that although WSI has the highest environmental relevance, it also has the highest uncertainty, as it requires estimations of non-measurable environmental water requirements. Hence, the development of a methodology to obtain more site-specific and relevant estimations of environmental water requirements should be prioritized. Finally, the demarcation of the groundwater resource in aquifers remains a challenge for establishing a consistent method for benchmarking freshwater impacts caused by groundwater abstraction.