Sociohydrological impacts of water conservation under anthropogenic drought in Austin, Texas (USA)

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Mar 14, 2018
Betsy Breyer, Samuel C. Zipper, Jiangxiao Qiu



Municipal water providers increasingly respond to drought by implementing outdoor water use restrictions to reduce urban water withdrawals and maintain water availability. However, restricting urban outdoor water use to support watershed‐scale drought resilience may generate unanticipated cross‐scale interactions, for example, by altering drought response and recovery in urban vegetation or urban streamflow. Despite this, urban water conservation is rarely conceptualized or modeled as endogenous to the water cycle. Here, we investigate cross‐scale interactions among urban water conservation and water availability, water use, and sociohydrological response in Austin, TX (USA) during a recent anthropogenic (human‐influenced) drought. Multi‐scalar statistical analyses demonstrated that outdoor water conservation for reservoir management at the municipal scale produced responses that can cascade both ‘upwards' from the city to the watershed (e.g., decoupling streamflow patterns upstream and downstream of Austin at the watershed scale) and ‘downwards' to exert heterogeneous effects within the city (e.g., redistributing water along a socioeconomic gradient at sub‐municipal scales, with effects on terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems). We suggest that adapting to anthropogenic drought through irrigation curtailment requires sustained engagement between hydrology and social sciences to integrate socioeconomic status and political feedbacks within and among irrigator groups into the water cycle. Findings from this cross‐disciplinary study highlight the importance of a multi‐scalar and spatially‐explicit perspectives in urban sociohydrology research to uncover how water conservation as adaptation to anthropogenic drought links hydrological processes with issues of socioeconomic inequality and spatiotemporal scale in the Anthropocene.

Read the full article in Water Resources Research.

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