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Watering the Desert: Evolving surface water distribution in America’s arid boomburbs

Authors: Jacob Napieralski*,
Topics: Water Resources and Hydrology, Urban and Regional Planning, Landscape
Keywords: urbanization, stream channel, surface water, residential pools, boomburb
Session Type: Poster
Day: 4/8/2020
Start / End Time: 3:20 PM / 4:35 PM
Room: Virtual Track 3
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Boomburbs (booming suburbs) represent rapid economic growth and urban sprawl, but also reflect a pronounced redistribution of blue space. In this study, the addition, modification, and removal of stream channels and inland surface waters were analyzed for 17 boomburbs, most within the Sunbelt of the United States. Pre-development and present-day stream flowlines and waterbody boundaries were extracted from the first available USGS 1:24,000 topographic maps and from the National Hydrography Dataset, respectively. The count of residential pools in four boomburbs provided additional data on the reallocation of surface water. Approximately 1,145 km of stream channels were buried from all boomburbs, including more than 50% loss in several boomburbs, primarily due to centralizing surface runoff through a few major channels and canals. In contrast, lakes and ponds generally increased in areal extent over time (nearly 14 km2 of surface waters added to the boomburbs during urbanization), as well a substantial amount of surface water used for residential pools, including the equivalent of 1 km2 of additional surface water area in just one boomburb. This study illustrates a common practice of simplifying the urban stream network, while jigsawing excess water into the urban landscape to support housing and recreation that offer few ecosystem services. These boomburbs are only a fraction of sprawling metropolitan areas, but the overall demand for water in arid cities is high and requires unsustainable water management practices. Booming suburbs should reduce water reliance, rather than rely on water recycling, to prepare for a changing climate and relentless urbanization.

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