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Pipeline politics: Urbanization and hydrosocial change in Oregon’s Deschutes River Basin

Authors: Alida Cantor*, Portland State University
Topics: Water Resources and Hydrology, Cultural and Political Ecology
Keywords: water, political ecology, urbanization, hydrosocial cycle, Oregon
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper explores water conflicts amid urbanization in the Deschutes River Basin, Oregon. Although it is not a major metropolitan region, Oregon’s Deschutes County has experienced rapid urban population growth over the past several decades. Water resources in the Deschutes River Basin are experiencing multiple pressures, including population growth as well as shifts from a resource production-based economy to a recreation and amenity-based economy, and new listings under the Endangered Species Act. In response, water managers are working to enact changes to ensure adequate urban water supplies and instream flows. These changes, including market-based water transfers and modernization of irrigation infrastructure, particularly target irrigated agricultural water systems, which comprise the bulk of water rights allocation and offstream water use in the basin. Some of these changes—in particular efficiency upgrades involving piping of irrigation canals—have been met with resistance from urban populations, who appreciate the aesthetic character of open irrigation canals and are loathe to lose their ‘amenity waterscapes’ even for the sake of conservation and efficiency. This paper uses exurban political ecology and the hydrosocial cycle to examine the subsequent ‘pipeline politics’ and the rural-urban tensions that have arisen around water conservation efforts in the basin.

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