Water Footprint of 65 Mid- to Large-Sized U.S. Cities and Their Metropolitan Areas

Ikechukwu C. Ahams, Willa Paterson, Susana Garcia, Richard Rushforth, Benjamin L. Ruddell, Alfonso Mejia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Conventional indicators of water use for urban areas account primarily for direct water use. In contrast, our objective here is to employ the water footprint (WF) concept and methodology to include the virtual or indirect water use to assess the production-side and consumption-side WF of 65 United States (U.S.) cities. The 65 cities include the largest metropolitan areas and some of the major mid-sized cities in the U.S. We use metropolitan areas to define our city boundaries as this is the native spatial resolution of the main datasets used. To estimate the urban WFs, we integrated large and disparate datasets, including commodity flow (agricultural, livestock, and industrial commodities), water use, and socioeconomic data. By analyzing the estimated WF values, we found indirect water use accounts on average for 66% of the WF of consumption. We found some cities are net virtual water exporters (11 of 65) because they rely heavily on direct water uses or are heavy producers of industrial commodities. Also, WF patterns vary widely across the U.S. but regional patterns seem to emerge. For example, the dense cities of the U.S. northeast megaregion have a significantly low per capita WF relative to the other cities, while cities in the Gulf Coast megaregion have a significantly higher industrial WF of production and consumption. Furthermore, there is inequality in the WF of consumption where a few cities account for a disproportionate share of the total U.S. urban water uses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1147-1163
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of the American Water Resources Association
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • consumptive use
  • material flow
  • urban metabolism
  • virtual water
  • water footprint
  • water sustainability
  • water use

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Earth-Surface Processes


Dive into the research topics of 'Water Footprint of 65 Mid- to Large-Sized U.S. Cities and Their Metropolitan Areas'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this