Outdoor Water Use as an Adaptation Problem: Insights from North American Cities

Patricia Gober, Ray Quay, Kelli Larson

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Recent efforts to influence the efficiency and timing of urban indoor water use through education, technology, conservation, reuse, economic incentives, and regulatory mechanisms have enabled many North American cities to accommodate population growth and buffer impacts of drought. It is unlikely that this approach will be equally successful into the future because the source of conservation will shift from indoor to outdoor use. Outdoor water is climate sensitive, difficult to measure, hard to predict, linked to other components of complex and dynamic urban resource systems, imbued with behavioral and cultural dimensions, and implicated in societal conflicts about climate risk, modern lifestyles, social justice, and future growth. Outdoor water conservation is not a traditional management problem focused on the water sector, assuming a stationary climate, and set aside from public debate. Instead, outdoor water is an adaptation problem, involving complex and uncertain system dynamics, the need for cross-sector coordination, strategies for dealing with climatic uncertainty, and mechanisms for engaging stakeholders with differing goals. This paper makes the case for treating outdoor water as an adaptation problem and offers a six-point strategy for how cities can better prepare their water systems for the uncertainties of climate and societal change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)899-912
Number of pages14
JournalWater Resources Management
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 1 2016


  • Climate adaptation
  • Complex systems
  • Outdoor water
  • Public engagement
  • Resilience
  • Vulnerability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Water Science and Technology


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