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The changing water cycle: impacts of an evolving supply and demand landscape on urban water reliability in the Bay Area

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The San Francisco Bay Area is no stranger to the emerging water challenges of climate change and population growth. As California bounces back from one of the most severe droughts in the state's history, utilities are forced to look for more resilient ways to manage their water resources. In the search for enhanced water reliability and resiliency, water providers must identify viable and innovative ways to increase water supplies and decrease demands. These decisions will be highly dependent on local characteristics, and the population dynamics that greatly affect supply, demand, and adaptation capacity in each region. This article explores the evolving supply and demand dynamics in 26 interconnected water utilities in the Bay Area. These utilities reflect not only the challenges that much of the state is facing due to the ongoing drought, but also the stresses of a growing population and shifting socioeconomic characteristics. The region has made significant investments in water efficiency and conservation that have helped increase resilience during the current drought, but conservation can only go so far and many uncertainties remain about future directions for supply and demand management. We explore: (1) how the supply and demand landscapes have evolved in these utilities over the past few decades, (2) what the main drivers have been, and (3) identify opportunities for the region to move forward in response to changing dynamics. The result is a holistic perspective that can help inform water managers and policy makers in preparation for the future.

Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency (BAWSCA) member agencies map. Source: BAWSCA Annual Survey.
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(a) Median household income versus residential water use. Relationship with water pricing (blue color scale) is also shown. (b) Population density versus residential water use. Relationship with income (red color scale) is also shown. Both graphs include inserts displaying a closer look at the relationship when high‐income service areas (Hillsborough, Purissima Hills WD, and CWS‐Bear Gulch) are removed.
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Changing demographics in four representative Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation agencies: (a) unemployment rate, (b) median household income (normalized to 2015$), and (c) water use per capita (gallons).
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(a) Reliance on San Francisco Regional Water System (SF RWS) in 2014, (b) allocation of Individual Supply Guarantee (ISG‐normalized by 2014 population), and (c) fraction of such allocation unused in 2014–2015.
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(a) Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency (BAWSCA) purchases of San Francisco Regional Water System (SF RWS) in relation to total allocation (Individual Supply Guarantee). (b) Historical storage levels in the SF RWS.
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Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency trends over time: population, water use, and regional supply portfolios. ‘Other’ supply sources include imports from the State Water Project, and brackish groundwater desalination in Alameda County Water District.
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Diversity of sociodemographic and water use characteristics among Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency (BAWSCA) member agencies. z‐Scores are a normalized metric computed as the observed values minus the mean divided by the standard deviation. On each box, the central mark is the median, the edges of the box are the 25th and 75th percentiles, the whiskers extend to the extreme values, and the red circles represent outliers (values higher than 1.5 times the difference between 75th and 25th percentiles). Wider bars and whiskers reflect higher variability. Numbers displayed are minimum and maximum values in each data category.Sources: 2014–2015 BAWSCA Annual Survey and American Community Survey.
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Science of Water > Water and Environmental Change
Engineering Water > Planning Water
Human Water > Rights to Water

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