Southwestern United States cities have reduced their total water use over the last twenty years, even with high rates of population growth.
The Southwestern United States have seen major population growth over the last twenty years. One might think that growth would be accompanied by an increase in water use, yet new research in the Journal of Water Resources Planning and Management finds the opposite. Urban water use among 28 Western state cities and towns in the Colorado River Basin actually dropped from 2000 to 2020, in spite of a population increase of 24 percent. From the study, Decoupling Urban Water Use from Population Growth in the Colorado River Basin, study author Brian Richter found that “Median per capita water-use rates for total and residential use decreased by 30% and 28%, respectively.”
The good news about the study is that water conservation and efficiency efforts were effective and reducing overall water use, especially in the bigger cities. The unfortunate news from the study is that, in spite of declining water use overall, use of Colorado River water increased by 1 percent. Richter found this was due in large part to smaller cities/larger towns that experienced higher rates of population growth, at the same time could not afford the types of conservation and efficiency efforts that the larger cities could. The study concluded that cities and towns around the Colorado River Basin would benefit from prioritizing water sources other than Colorado River sources.
This study supports our belief that constant education about water use of all sorts – such as this water footprint program – can help people make better choices about their water use, long before they face a water shortage crisis.