Document Type


Journal/Book Title/Conference

Water Resources Research






Wiley-Blackwell Publishing, Inc.

Publication Date



conflict, knee, multi-objective, negotiation, Pareto frontier, tradeoff


Water management usually considers economic and ecological objectives, and involves tradeoffs, conflicts, compromise, and cooperation among objectives. Pareto optimality often is championed in water management, but its relationships with the mathematical representation of objectives, and implications of tradeoffs for Pareto optimal decisions, are rarely examined. We evaluate the mathematical properties of optimized tradeoffs to identify promising regions for compromise, suggest strategies for reducing conflicts, and better understand whether decision-makers are more or less likely to cooperate on environmental water allocations. Cooperation and compromise among objectives can be easier when tradeoff curves are concave and more adversarial when tradeoff curves are convex. “Knees,” or areas with maximum curvature, bulges, or breakpoints in concave Pareto frontiers, suggest more promising areas for compromise. Evaluating the shape of Pareto curves based on each objective's performance function can screen for the existence of knees amenable to compromise. We explore water management and restorations actions that improve and shift the location and prominence of knees in concave Pareto frontiers. Connecting river habitats and other non-flow management actions may add knees on locally concave regions of Pareto frontiers. Managing multiple streams regionally, rather than individually, can sometimes turn convex local tradeoffs into concave regional tradeoffs more amenable to compromise. Overall, this analysis provides a deep investigation of how the shape of tradeoffs influences the range and promise of decisions to improve performance, and illustrates that management actions may encourage cooperation and reduce conflict.


This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: Null, SE, MA Olivares, F Cordera, JR Lund. 2021. Pareto optimality and compromise for environmental water management. Water Resources Research57(10). DOI: e2020WR02896. IF: 4.4, Cit. 6., which has been published in final form at This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Use of Self-Archived Versions. This article may not be enhanced, enriched or otherwise transformed into a derivative work, without express permission from Wiley or by statutory rights under applicable legislation. Copyright notices must not be removed, obscured or modified. The article must be linked to Wiley’s version of record on Wiley Online Library and any embedding, framing or otherwise making available the article or pages thereof by third parties from platforms, services and websites other than Wiley Online Library must be prohibited.