Multilayer Network Clarifies Prevailing Water Consumption Telecouplings in the United States

S. Garcia, M. Gomez, R. Rushforth, B. L. Ruddell, A. Mejia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Virtual water flows are used to map the indirect water consumption connections implied by the supply chain of a city, region, or country. This information can be used to manage supply chains to achieve environmental policy objectives and mitigate environmental risks to critical supply chains. A limitation of prior work is that these flows are typically analyzed using monolayer networks, which ignores crucial intersectoral or interlayer couplings. Here, we use a multilayer network to account for such couplings when analyzing blue virtual water flows in the United States. Our multilayer network consists of 115 different regions (nodes), covering the entire conterminous United States; 41 coupled economic sectors (layers); and ∼2 × 107 possible links. To analyze the multilayer network, we focus on three fundamental network properties: topological connectivity, mesoscale structure, and node centrality. The network has a high connectivity, with each node being on average connected to roughly 2/3 of the network's nodes. Interlayer flows are a major driver of connectivity, representing ∼54% of all the network's connections. Five different groups of tightly connected nodes (communities) characterize the network. Each community represents a preferred spatial mode of long-range virtual water interaction within the United States. We find that large (populous) cities have a stronger influence than small ones on network functioning because they attract and recirculate more virtual water through their supply chains. Our results also highlight differences between the multilayer and monolayer virtual water network, which overall show that the former provides a more realistic representation of virtual water flows.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2020WR029141
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • complex network
  • input-output
  • multi-region
  • network science
  • virtual water
  • water footprint

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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