A decision tree model to estimate the value of information provided by a groundwater quality monitoring network
Groundwater contaminated with nitrate poses a serious health risk to infants when this contaminated water is used for culinary purposes. To avoid this health risk, people need to know whether their culinary water is contaminated or not. Therefore, there is a need to design an effective groundwater monitoring network, acquire information on groundwater conditions, and use acquired information to inform management options. These actions require time, money, and effort. This paper presents a method to estimate the value of information (VOI) provided by a groundwater quality monitoring network located in an aquifer whose water poses a spatially heterogeneous and uncertain health risk. A decision tree model describes the structure of the decision alternatives facing the decision-maker and the expected outcomes from these alternatives. The alternatives include (i) ignore the health risk of nitrate-contaminated water, (ii) switch to alternative water sources such as bottled water, or (iii) implement a previously designed groundwater quality monitoring network that takes into account uncertainties in aquifer properties, contaminant transport processes, and climate (Khader, 2012). The VOI is estimated as the difference between the expected costs of implementing the monitoring network and the lowest-cost uninformed alternative. We illustrate the method for the Eocene Aquifer, West Bank, Palestine, where methemoglobinemia (blue baby syndrome) is the main health problem associated with the principal contaminant nitrate. The expected cost of each alternative is estimated as the weighted sum of the costs and probabilities (likelihoods) associated with the uncertain outcomes resulting from the alternative. Uncertain outcomes include actual nitrate concentrations in the aquifer, concentrations reported by the monitoring system, whether people abide by manager recommendations to use/not use aquifer water, and whether people get sick from drinking contaminated water. Outcome costs include healthcare for methemoglobinemia, purchase of bottled water, and installation and maintenance of the groundwater monitoring system. At current methemoglobinemia and bottled water costs of $ 150/person and $ 0.6/baby/day, the decision tree results show that the expected cost of establishing the proposed groundwater quality monitoring network exceeds the expected costs of the uninformed alternatives and there is no value to the information the monitoring system provides. However, the monitoring system will be preferred to ignoring the health risk or using alternative sources if the methemoglobinemia cost rises to $ 300/person or the bottled water cost increases to $ 2.3/baby/day. Similarly, the monitoring system has value if the system can more accurately report actual aquifer concentrations and the public more fully abides by manager recommendations to use/not use the aquifer. The system also has value if it will serve a larger population or if its installation costs can be reduced, for example using a smaller number of monitoring wells. The VOI analysis shows how monitoring system design, accuracy, installation and operating costs, public awareness of health risks, costs of alternatives, and demographics together affect the value of implementing a system to monitor groundwater quality.