Long-Term Coevolution of an Urban Human-Water System Under Climate Change: Critical Role of Human Adaptive Actions

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The impacts of climate change and human activities are challenging water sustainability in many cities around the world. Advanced understanding of the future long-term coevolution of coupled urban human-water systems is of considerable interest in this context. This study uses a previously developed sociohydrologic model to explore the coevolutionary trajectories of Beijing City's human-water system over the 2015–2099 period under possible climate changes. The effects of multiple human adaptive actions under alternative climate scenarios are investigated in particular. Results show that there might be a recurrent competition for water between humans and the natural environment (e.g., groundwater aquifer) in the long-term future, indicating that effective water management needs to ensure that this competition remains within a safe operating space. Three regimes of the human-environment competition are revealed, including a sustainable development regime in which human society and groundwater aquifer are both safe throughout their coevolutionary trajectories, a regime that may lead to severe population loss due to overaggressive population control actions, and a regime that may cause aquifer depletion due to under-perception of the drawdown of groundwater table. Results also show that relying too much on interbasin water diversion project might slacken human water conservation measures and eventually cause more severe aquifer depletion in the long run. Maintaining a high community sensitivity to drawdown of groundwater table and moderate measures to control population growth are keys to avoid unintended, negative consequences.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2020WR027931
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2020


  • climate change
  • interbasin transfer
  • sociohydrology
  • urban hydrology
  • water management
  • water supply

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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