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Deconstructing Demand: The Anthropogenic and Climatic Drivers of Urban Water Consumption


Cities in drought prone regions of the world such as South East Australia are faced with escalating water scarcity and security challenges. Here we use 72 years of urban water consumption data from Melbourne, Australia, a city that recently overcame a 12 year "Millennium Drought", to evaluate (1) the relative importance of climatic and anthropogenic drivers of urban water demand (using wavelet-based approaches) and (2) the relative contribution of various water saving strategies to demand reduction during the Millennium Drought. Our analysis points to conservation as a dominant driver of urban water savings (69%), followed by nonrevenue water reduction (e.g., reduced meter error and leaks in the potable distribution system; 29%), and potable substitution with alternative sources like rain or recycled water (3%). Per-capita consumption exhibited both climatic and anthropogenic signatures, with rainfall and temperature explaining approximately 55% of the variance. Anthropogenic controls were also strong (up to 45% variance explained). These controls were nonstationary and frequency-specific, with conservation measures like outdoor water restrictions impacting seasonal water use and technological innovation/changing social norms impacting lower frequency (baseline) use. The above-noted nonstationarity implies that wavelets, which do not assume stationarity, show promise for use in future predictive models of demand.

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