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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Spatial Patterns of Water Supply and Use in California


Spatial and temporal patterns of water supply and consumptive water use were analyzed from 475 Detailed Analysis Units by County (DAUCOs) spatial units across California during 2002 through 2016 to evaluate spatial and temporal variability and how it might associate with precipitation variability and other factors. Many, but not all, DAUCOs have relatively low total water supply variability compared to that of state-wide precipitation. Such low variability, in DAUCOs having sufficient diversity of water supply sources, is the result of switching between sources as needed to maintain a reliable total water supply. We used multiple approaches to explore these variations which involved four categories of water supply (local, groundwater, imported, and other) and two categories of water use (agricultural and urban). First, a cluster analysis of the volumetric water balance data identified a small set of clusters having similar magnitudes and proportions of water supply sources and water use—some of them composed of only a few DAUCOs but accounting for a disproportionate amount of the state’s water use. Second, a principal components analysis identified leading modes of anomalous water supply and water use among the 475 DAUCOs, capturing most of the time variation during 2002 to 2016. The most prominent mode exhibits a multi-year trend, most strongly involving increasing groundwater supply and agricultural water use, and decreasing urban water use and imported water supply. Over the study period, trends in both supply and use were pronounced, but differed considerably across California DAUCOs. One predominant subset of DAUCOs grew their agricultural water use with increased groundwater supply; in contrast to a widespread group of DAUCOs which reduced their urban water use. An important result for planners is our finding that variation in precipitation—itself important—is amplified by the human response to water supply availability and regulatory policy.

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