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Shifting the timing of water use from peak to off-peak periods

Impacts addressed: 
UNEP-DHI Partnership – Centre on Water and Environment
Technology group: 


Shifting the timing of use of water from peak to off-peak periods is of particular importance for increasing water supply infrastructure resilience, but also increasing water use efficiency. More balanced distribution of water demand across time can help avert interruptions in supply, as well as reduce costs for water, and particularly energy, within water supply system. Shifting the time of use from peak to off peak periods in households can also help incentivize water efficiency and increase savings. Shifting the time of water use is particularly important in locations where high amounts of energy are needed to pump and transport water to the users.


Implementation may require establishment of new regulatory frameworks, and/or incentives that promote more distributed water abstractions over time. Examples include special rates for night time or other off-peak time irrigation, or higher rates for water used in peak periods. Other demand management measures and technologies include advanced remote irrigation control systems that allow changing and adjusting irrigation water demand remotely and more flexibly, as well as household water meters recording not only the volume, but also time of water use. The above measure are likely to be supplemented with public information and education campaigns for maximum effect.

Environmental Benefits

- Studies have shown that timing of the return flows is important in minimizing impacts on ecosystems and that shorter time periods between abstraction and return are least disruptive to the ecosystems. Improved withdrawal distribution over time can therefore minimize negative impacts on ecosystems. Examples include agricultural irrigation systems and industrial users that withdraw large amounts of water, but also return some of the water (at varying quality) to the river basins.

Socioeconomic Benefits

- Potential for increasing costs savings on for water and energy use
- Better distribution of water demand across time can also help reduce need for water infrastructure upgrading and expansion.

Opportunities and Barriers

- Conscious water use habits may also incentivize water savings in general and provide further
savings to costs on water and energy use.
- Water use habits in domestic settings may be difficult to change and take time for the
programmes to take effect

- Changing patterns for industrial or agricultural use may be challenging if the existing systems are rigid, and thus require some time and additional investment.

Implementation considerations*
Technological maturity: 1-3
Initial investment: 2-3
Operational costs: 2
Implementation timeframe: 2-4

* This adaptation technology brief includes a general assessment of four dimensions relating to implementation of the
technology. It represents an indicative assessment scale of 1-5 as follows:
Technological maturity: 1 - in early stages of research and development, to 5 – fully mature and widely used
Initial investment: 1 – very low cost, to 5 – very high cost investment needed to implement technology
Operational costs: 1 – very low/no cost, to 5 – very high costs of operation and maintenance
Implementation timeframe: 1 – very quick to implement and reach desired capacity, to 5 – significant time investments needed to establish and/or reach full capacity

This assessment is to be used as an indication only and is to be seen as relative to the other technologies included in this guide.
More specific costs and timelines are to be identified as relevant for the specific technology and geography.

Sources and further information

  • UNEP-DHI Partnership- Shifting the timing of use from peak to off-peak periods
  • Alliance for Water Efficiency, 2017: Peak Day Water Demand Management Study, July 2017, Chicago
  • Cara D. Beal, Thulo Ram Gurung, Rodney A. Stewart, 2016: Demand-side management for supply-side efficiency: Modeling tailored strategies for reducing peak residential water demand, In Sustainable Production and Consumption, Volume 6, 2016, Pp 1-11
  • Lyman, R. A. (1992), Peak and off-peak residential water demand, Water Resour. Res., 28(9), 2159–2167,
  • Maddaus, W.O., 2001: Realizing the benefits from water conservation, Maddaus Water Management, Alamo, CA
  • WMO, 2001: Tools for Water Use and Demand Management In South Africa, TECHNICAL REPORTS IN HYDROLOGY AND WATER RESOURCES, No. 73, World Meteorological Organization, Geneva,