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

Abstract

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.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Drought is, of course, a term that implies a kind of referent of about rainfall normalcy. In the US southwest, dry periods are not uncommon historically. We use the terms shortage, scarcity, or aridity in some places to convey this concept.

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Acknowledgments

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.

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Correspondence to Stephanie Pincetl or Erik Porse.

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Pincetl, S., Porse, E., Mika, K.B. et al. Adapting Urban Water Systems to Manage Scarcity in the 21st Century: The Case of Los Angeles. Environmental Management 63, 293–308 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00267-018-1118-2

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Keywords

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