Environmental Management

, Volume 63, Issue 3, pp 293–308 | Cite as

Adapting Urban Water Systems to Manage Scarcity in the 21st Century: The Case of Los Angeles

  • Stephanie PincetlEmail author
  • Erik PorseEmail author
  • Kathryn B. Mika
  • Elizaveta Litvak
  • Kimberly F. Manago
  • Terri S. Hogue
  • Thomas Gillespie
  • Diane E. Pataki
  • Mark Gold


Acute water shortages for large metropolitan regions are likely to become more frequent as climate changes impact historic precipitation levels and urban population grows. California and Los Angeles County have just experienced a severe four year drought followed by a year of high precipitation, and likely drought conditions again in Southern California. We show how the embedded preferences for distant sources, and their local manifestations, have created and/or exacerbated fluctuations in local water availability and suboptimal management. As a socio technical system, water management in the Los Angeles metropolitan region has created a kind of scarcity lock-in in years of low rainfall. We come to this through a decade of coupled research examining landscapes and water use, the development of the complex institutional water management infrastructure, hydrology and a systems network model. Such integrated research is a model for other regions to unpack and understand the actual water resources of a metropolitan region, how it is managed and potential ability to become more water self reliant if the institutions collaborate and manage the resource both parsimoniously, but also in an integrated and conjunctive manner. The Los Angeles County metropolitan region, we find, could transition to a nearly water self sufficient system.


Water scarcity Socio-technical systems Integrated water management Water self-reliance 



This research was supported by the John Randolph Haynes and Dora Haynes Foundation, the National Science Foundation’s Water, Sustainability, and Climate program (NSF WSC #1204235), and the Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

267_2018_1118_MOESM1_ESM.docx (3.1 mb)
Supplementary Information


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of the Environment and SustainabilityUniversity of California, Los AngelesLos AngelesUSA
  2. 2.Office of Water ProgramsCalifornia State UniversitySacramentoUSA
  3. 3.Department of BiologyUniversity of UtahSalt Lake CityUSA
  4. 4.Civil and Environmental EngineeringColorado School of MinesGoldenUSA
  5. 5.Geography DepartmentUniversity of California, Los AngelesLos AngelesUSA
  6. 6.Institute of the Environment and Sustainability and Sustainable LA Grand ChallengeUniversity of California, Los AngelesLos AngelesUSA

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