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Urban Water Demand in California to 2100: Incorporating Climate Change

Matthew Heberger, Juliet Christian-Smith, Lucy Allen | August 28th, 2012

Climate change will have significant impacts in California not just on water supply, but also on water demand. A new, free tool from the Pacific Institute* helps water managers to forecast urban water demand with four global climate change models and compare different possible futures to the year 2100 by altering greenhouse gas emissions, population projections, conservation and efficiency measures, and more. The research shows climate change will cause increased water use in California’s cities and suburbs, even as water supply is expected to diminish.

Urban water use – residential plus commercial, industrial, and institutional uses – accounts for over 20% of the water use in California, and up to half of urban water use is outdoors. The new report Urban Water Demand in California to 2100: Incorporating Climate Change describes how warming due to climate change is causing increases in water demand for landscapes, and will continue to drive up future water demand, particularly as more Californians settle in warmer, drier inland areas.

The Pacific Institute ran a number of scenarios through 2100. The analysis finds that climate change alone could increase urban water demand in 2100 by 8% percent, or around 1 million acre-feet, under a medium-high greenhouse gas emissions scenario. That is the amount of water needed to satisfy the current household needs of 6.7 million Californians.

“A million acre-feet of water is significant, and, of course, climate is not the only driver affecting demand. But factoring levels of climate change into the mix is critical,” said Dr. Juliet Christian-Smith of the Pacific Institute Water Program. “Future water use in California depends on a range of factors – technological, political, and economic – many of which are uncertain, but water utilities still need to plan. We created a flexible modeling tool that allows users to run their own scenarios, comparing how a range of factors in a range of climate change scenarios is likely to affect future patterns of water use in their specific areas.”


climate change, modeling, planning and management, water supply

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