Full Domestic Supply Chains of Blue Virtual Water Flows Estimated for Major U.S. Cities

Susana Garcia, Richard Rushforth, Benjamin L. Ruddell, Alfonso Mejia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Through the trade of products and services, cities indirectly depend on distant water sources to function, prosper, and grow. To fully account for indirect (virtual) water dependencies, virtual water flows need to be known along complex supply chains. To this purpose, we build a new environmental multiregional input–output model for U.S. regions. The model is used to quantify the domestic, blue virtual water flows and analyze the water footprints of 69 major U.S. cities. Our results show a large inequality in the urban water consumed for economic production: just 7 out of the 69 cities included in this study account for 35% of the U.S. national water footprint of production. This is due to the production of water-intensive agricultural products in the metropolitan areas of western cities. The inequality reduces for the urban water footprint of consumption because, through the supply chains of industrialized food sectors, western virtual water is partially transferred to eastern cities as final demand. The water embodied in industrial products and services tends to be higher in western cities than in eastern cities; that is, the water embodied in food services could be several times higher in Los Angeles than in New York City. Trade hub cities attract large inflows of products which are mostly transformed for consumption elsewhere. Thus, the omission of product interdependencies within trade hub cities can increase by several times their water footprints of consumption. Overall, the proposed model is able to enhance subnational estimates of U.S. virtual water flows.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2019WR026190
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Water Science and Technology


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