The University of Utah
College of Architecture + Planning
System Dynamics Modeling for Water Management

System Dynamics Modeling for Water Resources Management in Las Vegas, Nevada

When a community outstrips its access to water, the logical planning solution is to invest in more robust infrastructure for water storage and transport. But what are the long-term implications of this strategy? This study uncovers that the historical record in Las Vegas shows evidence of induced water demand: building large water supply infrastructure (such as dams and pipeline networks) has a positive feedback effect on urban growth and water use—creating a self-reinforcing dynamic cycle. In other words, more infrastructure encourages greater demand. Through system dynamics modeling, findings suggests that—even in the face of climate change—Las Vegas can meet its future growth goals while maintaining water supply resilience, but only by pursuing aggressive water conservation, wastewater recycling, and by limiting the construction of any new water supply infrastructure. Although Las Vegas has a path to a vital and resilient future, evidence for induced demand suggests that, in the long run, building large water supply projects is likely a self-defeating strategy.

October 5, 2016