Inadequate urban water supplies

Other Names:
Water rationing
Urban water shortage

Limitation on domestic water use by voluntary action, or through the imposition by water supply authorities of scaled charges and fines, is becoming commonplace to urban and suburban dwellers around the world - and not just communities in drier regions.

Household demand, particularly in urban areas, is rising rapidly, particularly among wealthy consumers, in developed and developing countries, with an abundance of household appliances and garden irrigation.


In the blight of a 5 year drought, 1991 Los Angeles law requires every customer has to cut water use by 15% from the 1986 level. If they fail the fines are progressive and increasing for each violation. Fines of up to $15,000 have been levied. There is provision for formal appeals asking for special consideration, such as for pets or recently landscaped garden; also for temporary adjustments for special events like wedding parties or repairing a swimming pool. As a result the water authority may face a fiscal crisis because the consumers have cut their water use by 38% reducing anticipated revenues for 1991 by $70 million. 600 homes were destroyed by fire exacerbated by dry gardens. Discrete notices in hotels inform guests that their sheets will be changed and washed only every second day and that toilet should only be flushed when really necessary. Since only about 6% of California's water use goes to domestic use, and over 80% to agriculture at a tenth of the cost of what domestic users are charged, the long-term solution will depend on integrated water management involving better management of existing ground and surface water, reclamation of water, new reservoirs and desalination plants.

In the Delaware River basin, the competing demands of water supply for New York City and the maintenance of the salt water front position below water intakes in Philadelphia would be negatively affected by future global warming, although the former would be more affected by climatic changes than the latter. However, studies suggest that climate variability would exert greater effects than long term climate change and that adjustment in the water control policy could offset some of the problems expected.

Many cities are facing serious shortages of safe water as a result of over-exploitation of resources and pollution. Bangkok's water table, for example, has fallen 25 metres since the late 1950s and saltwater has penetrated its wells (WWF 1990). Daily demand for water in Beijing increased almost 100 times between 1950 and 1980 (WRI, UNEP and UNDP 1992). Urban demand for water in Latin America is likely to rise fivefold during the next four decades (WRI, UNEP and UNDP 1994).

Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 6: Clean Water and SanitationGOAL 10: Reduced InequalityGOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and CommunitiesGOAL 12: Responsible Consumption and Production
Problem Type:
E: Emanations of other problems
Date of last update
04.10.2020 – 22:48 CEST