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Forecasting water demand across a rapidly urbanizing region

April 30, 2020

Urban growth and climate change together complicate planning efforts meant to adapt to increasingly scarce water supplies. Several studies have independently examined the impacts of urban planning and climate change on water demand, but little attention has been given to their combined impact. Here we forecast urban water demand using a Geographically Weighted Regression model informed by socio-economic, environmental and landscape pattern metrics. The purpose of our study is to evaluate how future scenarios of population densities and climate warming will jointly affect water demand across two rapidly growing U.S. states (North Carolina and South Carolina). Our forecasts indicate that regional water demand by 2065 will increase by 37%–383% relative to the baseline in 2010, across all scenarios of change. Our results show future water demand will increase under rising temperatures, but could be ameliorated by policies that promote higher density development and urban infill. These water-efficient land use policies show a 5% regional reduction in water demand and up to 25% reduction locally for counties with the highest expected population growth by 2065. For rural counties experiencing depopulation, the land use policies we considered are insufficient to significantly reduce water demand. For expanding communities seeking to increase their adaptive capacity to changing socio-environmental conditions, our framework can assist in developing sustainable solutions.

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