Document Details

A Community Guide for Evaluating Future Urban Water Demand

Matthew Heberger, Kristina Donnelly, Heather Cooley | August 31st, 2016

A Community Guide for Evaluating Future Urban Water Demand provides communities, environmental groups, ratepayer advocates, and anyone interested in sustainable water supply planning with the knowledge and tools they need to understand water demand forecasts.

Communities across the U.S. are faced with decisions about how to meet the needs of a growing population. To help make these decisions, water utilities often rely on forecasts that project water use 20 or 30 years into the future, consistent with the amount of time it takes to develop new supply infrastructure, such as desalination plants or reservoirs.

For much of the 20th century, water use in American cities grew in proportion to population and the economy. Since the 1980s, however, water use in communities across the United States has remained steady or declined despite continued population and economic growth, due to improved water conservation and efficiency and structural changes in the American economy.

While the water sector has undergone a fundamental transformation, the practice of water demand forecasting has been slow to keep pace. Water suppliers routinely overestimate future water demand based on often overstated estimates of population and economic growth and underestimates of the effects of water conservation and efficiency improvements. These inflated estimates of future water needs can result in unneeded water supply and treatment infrastructure, higher costs to ratepayers, and unnecessary environmental impacts.

The guidebook explains how water utilities forecast long-term water demand and reviews some of the approaches and methods commonly used by utilities and consultants. It also provides a set of best practices that can be used to create more accurate and robust long-range water demand forecasts. Some of these best practices include accounting for water conservation and efficiency improvements and land use changes, as well as ensuring transparency and meaningful stakeholder engagement.


drinking water, planning and management, water use efficiency