Configuring socio-technical relations: Flood control, weaponization, and urban sustainability at Morris Dam

Authors: Joshua Cousins*, Dartmouth College
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Urban Geography, Political Geography
Keywords: Infrastructure, flood control, political ecology, socio-technical systems, urbanization
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/13/2018
Start / End Time: 1:20 PM / 3:00 PM
Room: Napoleon B3, Sheraton 3rd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper examines how infrastructure emerges in relation to organized state practices. Specifically, I draw attention to how hydrological infrastructure is a relational and embedded structure of state power. I do this by examining three forms of infrastructural relations around a single dam. The City of Pasadena constructed Morris Dam in the 1930s to capture the floodwaters of the San Gabriel River, 18 miles east of the city. During this initial period, the practices of the state organized around “salvaging” the unappropriated floodwaters of the river. Flood control came second to water supply, but the completion of Morris Dam was hailed as an important infrastructural intervention, preventing loss of life and property in the wake floods. Second, I examine how the dam was enrolled as an experimental military facility during World War II. Here, the dam and its reservoir became an integral infrastructure in the development of a new type of torpedo utilized for undersea warfare. Finally, I explore the relations that emerge as the dam is modernized in efforts to increase urban drought resilience and water reliability. The reconfiguration of the dam in the present increases stormwater capture in efforts to enhance water supply and develop new forms of relations around stormwater, urban sustainability, and climate change adaptation. Together, I use these different forms of infrastructural relations to illustrate how state practices emerge in association with changing socio-technical systems and the pursuit of political goals.

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