GRACE satellite observations reveal the severity of recent water over-consumption in the United States

Kurt C. Solander, John T. Reager, Yoshihide Wada, James S. Famiglietti, Richard S. Middleton

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23 Scopus citations


Changes in the climate and population growth will critically impact the future supply and demand of water, leading to large uncertainties for sustainable resource management. In the absence of on-the-ground measurements to provide spatially continuous, high-resolution information on water supplies, satellite observations can provide essential insight. Here, we develop a technique using observations from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite to evaluate the sustainability of surface water and groundwater use over the continental United States. We determine the annual total water availability for 2003-2015 using the annual variability in GRACE-derived total water storage for 18 major watersheds. The long-term sustainable water quantity available to humans is calculated by subtracting an annual estimate of the water needed to maintain local ecosystems, and the resulting water volumes are compared to reported consumptive water use to determine a sustainability fraction. We find over-consumption is highest in the southwest US, where increasing stress trends were observed in all five basins and annual consumptive use exceeded 100% availability twice in the Lower Colorado basin during 2003-2015. By providing a coarse-scale evaluation of sustainable water use from satellite and ground observations, the established framework serves as a blueprint for future large-scale water resource monitoring.
Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2017
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Generated from Scopus record by KAUST IRTS on 2023-09-18

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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