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Spatial Development And Design Drive Water Use, According To New Study

Grid pattern city scape
Traditional spatial development seen here in grid patterns are commonly found in cities




Researchers in North Carolina have found that spatial patterns in landscapes can influence water use. The findings of the study could have large implications for urban sprawl in the arid state of Utah where the population is projected to double by 2050.

Most citizens are aware that lawn types or the amount of time spent in the shower influence daily water use. However, lesser known is how spatial patterns of development can also subconsciously influence water use.


“So when I talk about spatial patterns of development I refer to the shapes and forms of urbanized landscapes,” said Georgina Sanchez, a research assistant at the Center for Geospatial Analytics and Ph.D. candidate at North Carolina State University.


In a recent study which looked at growing census tracts across North and South Carolina, researchers found that characteristics like socioeconomic and environmental factors had less of an influence on water use than spatial patterns. In Utah, cities are similarly expanding, so how the state develops may affect future water use.


“We found that compact simple spatial development patterns exhibit lower development-related water use,” Sanchez said.


These results include industrial, commercial and domestic water users and reflect changing development patterns.


“In the early 1900s, development was on a more simple square shape and when you move towards early 2000s we see more of a complex pattern, sprawling across the landscape,” Sanchez said.


She says spatial patterns including cul-de-sacs as opposed to cities laid out in grid form demand greater water use due to their shape. This could impact growing western communities in arid states like Utah.


“As we move west we can safely assume that residents won’t be able to rely as much on rainfall for outdoor irrigation which is one of the main takes of domestic water use,” Sanchez said.  


Find access to the article ‘Spatial Patterns of Development Drive Water Use’ here.

Find population growth projections for the state of Utah, provided by the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah here.