Life-cycle and freshwater withdrawal impact assessment of water supply technologies

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Four alternative cases for water supply were environmentally evaluated and compared based on the standard environmental impact categories from the life-cycle assessment (LCA) methodology extended with a freshwater withdrawal category (FWI). The cases were designed for Copenhagen, a part of Denmark with high population density and relatively low available water resources. FWI was applied at local groundwater catchments based on data from the national implementation of the EU Water Framework Directive. The base case of the study was the current practice of groundwater abstraction from well fields situated near Copenhagen. The 4 cases studied were: Rain & stormwater harvesting from several blocks in the city; Today's groundwater abstraction with compensating actions applied in the affected freshwater environments to ensure sufficient water flow in water courses; Establishment of well fields further away from the city; And seawater desalination. The standard LCA showed that the Rain & stormwater harvesting case had the lowest overall environmental impact (81.9 μPET/m3) followed by the cases relying on groundwater abstraction (123.5–137.8 μPET/m3), and that desalination had a relatively small but still important increase in environmental impact (204.8 μPET/m3). Rain & stormwater harvesting and desalination had a markedly lower environmental impact compared to the base case, due to the reduced water hardness leading to e.g. a decrease in electricity consumption in households. For a relevant comparison, it is therefore essential to include the effects of water hardness when comparing the environmental impacts of water systems of different hardness. This study also emphasizes the necessity of including freshwater withdrawal respecting the relevant affected geographical scale, i.e. by focusing the assessment on the local groundwater catchments rather than on the regional catchments. Our work shows that freshwater withdrawal methods previously used on a regional level can also be applied to local groundwater catchments and integrated into the standard LCA as an impact category. When standard LCA is extended to include impacts of freshwater withdrawal, rain & stormwater and seawater (0.09–0.18 compared to 11.45–17.16 mPET/m3) were the resources resulting in least overall environmental impact.
Original languageEnglish
JournalWater Research
Issue number7
Pages (from-to)2363-2374
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • HOFOR - water utility in Copenhagen
  • CF - characterization factor
  • EU-WFD - European Union Water Framework Directive
  • EWR - environmental water requirements
  • FWI - freshwater withdrawal impact
  • LCA - life-cycle assessment
  • WR - renewable water resource
  • WSI - water stress index
  • WTA - withdrawal to availability ratio
  • WU - water use
  • WWTP - wastewater treatment plant


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