Beyond plundering Appalachia. Women’s leadership in water stewardship in rural West Virginia.

Authors: Martina Angela Caretta*, West Virginia University
Topics: Gender
Keywords: stewardship, water, women, Appalachia
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 10:00 AM / 11:40 AM
Room: Napoleon A3, Sheraton, 3rd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Mountaintop removal and valley fills, two of the most destructive modes of coal extraction, between 1992 and 2002 have altered 1,200 miles of headwater streams and between 1985 and 2001 completely submerged 724 miles of streams (EPA 2005 in Bell, 2009). The identity of people living in Central Appalachia is tightly connected with water. The rivers are the blood that runs through this region. People spend their time outdoors, by the rivers (Fisher and Smith, 2012). Because of the threats that water resources have been faced due to coal mining, and most recently, hydraulic fracturing and oil and gas pipeline projects, citizens have organized in several non-profit organizations that aim at the preservation or restoration of specific rivers and watersheds (Fisher, 1993). These organizations are certainly in the hundreds, just in the state of West Virginia.
Many of these environmental and activist organizations are headed or completely staffed by women. While, women’s activism around mountaintop removal in Appalachia has been a topic of investigation (Bell and Braun, 2010), women’s institutional leadership in Central Appalachia remains to be explored. Additionally, the image that still prevails of Central Appalachia is a picture of environmental exploitation and not of environmental stewardship.
Grounded in 30 qualitative interviews with female environmental leaders in West Virginia, this study examines their dedication to protection and improvement of water quality against exploitative economic development and their commitment to their communities, despite the lack of employment and the opposition that they sometimes face.

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