Framing water vulnerability in California’s San Joaquin Valley: Contested knowledge regimes, slipping alliances, and ambiguous collaboration

Authors: Yanin Kramsky*, University of California - Berkeley
Topics: Water Resources and Hydrology, Cultural and Political Ecology, Ethnicity and Race
Keywords: water resources, political ecology, spatial politics
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/7/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Wilson C, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


California’s San Joaquin Valley is rife with water management practices that neglect the needs of primarily Latinx residents of Disadvantaged Unincorporated Communities (DUCs). Hundreds of DUCs are scattered across the Valley and confront disproportionate environmental burdens such as contaminated groundwater, dry wells, and insufficient water infrastructure. Municipal and state disinvestment, industrial agriculture, dairy farming, and geological circumstances lead to continuous water quality and quantity challenges for these communities. The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014 aims to address the Valley’s water vulnerabilities and requires proactive engagement with DUCs. Basin-wide Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) are tasked with soliciting and incorporating community members’ perspectives into a Sustainable Groundwater Management Plan (SGMP) by 2020. Through participant observation and semi-structured interviewing, this qualitative research analyzes the ways in which governmentalizing mechanisms and divergent forms of embodied, technical, and scientific knowledge surrounding water are framed, absorbed and/or contested, and mobilized for the production of the SGMP, at public gatherings, behind the scenes, and in the media. Due to the historical and material specificities of DUCs, residents are seldom able to break entrenched, systemic race and gender barriers that inhibit meaningful and ongoing participation in GSAs. The technical expertise, political savvy, time commitment, and documentation status required to effectively demonstrate embodied experiences of water vulnerability to GSA board members are unattainable for resource-strapped DUC residents. Consequently, marginalized residents risk falling through the cracks of one-size-fits all water management strategies that fail to capture diverse and nuanced experiences accompanying chronic water stress.

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