Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Water Supply and Demand

Print / PDF
Powerpoint Slide
Close-up image of water droplets falling from a metal faucet.

Water is an essential resource. Future demands for drinking water, energy production, and manufacturing prompted researchers working at the Joint Global Change Research Institute (JGCRI) and University of Alberta to develop global domestic water use projections through the 21st century. They linked water price information through the Global Change Assessment Model (GCAM), an integrated model of the human and Earth system, developed at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL). JGCRI is a partnership between PNNL and the University of Maryland.


Researchers from PNNL and the University of Alberta addressed two primary research questions: how may global domestic water use grow by year 2100, and which use factors (population, income, technology, or efficiency) dominate the direction of change? Constructing scenarios of future water demand requires research projections of different variables including population, technological change rate, and efficiency rate for each studied region. The team established a set of three representative scenarios to simulate all variables: business-as-usual (BAU), low-tech, and high-tech.The team found in the BAU scenario that water use is projected to increase at a slower rate than historical estimates. Only under the high-tech scenario is the global water use-per-capita in the year 2100 projected to be lower than in the year 2005. Such a decline in water use has been observed historically for some developed countries, where per-capita water use declined despite rising populations, likely due to technological improvements and conservation measures.The newly established model structure now incorporates the effect of water's price on water use demand and is calibrated to existing observations from many countries. Their results demonstrate the importance of accounting for both socioeconomic and technological measures to more accurately assess future domestic water use projections. Because the current water demand model includes socioeconomic variables like population, income, water price, and end-use technology and efficiency improvement rates, projections of those input variables are adopted to characterize the uncertainty in future water demand estimates. Finally, they assessed the sensitivity of the results to population, income, technology, and efficiency.


Human choices and their impact on water supply and water-dependent systems will affect climate change. Rising population and economic growth around the world is driving higher water demands for households, farming, energy production, and manufacturing. Until now, no existing global integrated assessment models include analysis of water supply and demand. Over the 20th century, domestic water use increased from about 22 km3 to 345 km3 per year, primarily due to population and income growth. That's almost ten times the storage capacity of the Hoover Dam.


Scenarios of Global Municipal Water Use Demand Projections over the 21st Century

Researchers, including those at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, simulated a municipal water demand model to the end of the 21st century with a detailed assessment of the influence of socioeconomic and technological changes on withdrawal and consumption estimates. The established model structure incorporates the effect of water price on water use demand and is calibrated to existing observations from many countries. The results demonstrate the importance of accounting for both socioeconomic and technological measures to assess future municipal water use projections more accurately. The wide range in the results for projected water use reflects the high level of uncertainty associated with the projections of the driver variables. The results are unique in providing a global municipal water demand model that includes water price as a dependent variable and permits water price back-calculation, deeply describing the model itself and its projections, and casting the model in the context of an integrated assessment model, or an economic model in a broad sense. To quantify the effect of changing water price on municipal water demand, the team examined through sensitivity analysis the implications of various levels of water availability for municipal uses. The team found that the price of water is highly dependent on many factors such as population, income and technology. However, domestic water use depends on other factors including the size of the household, the age distribution of the population, the climate, and differentiation between urban and rural water users.

Point of Contact
Xiaohong Liu
Funding Program Area(s)

Sponsors: The research was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science Integrated Assessment of Global Climate Change program.

Research Team: Mohamad Hejazi, Jae Edmonds, Vaibhav Chaturvedi and Jiyong Eom from PNNL's Joint Global Change Research Institute and Evan Davies from University of Alberta.