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The Social Production of the Great California Drought

Authors: Brian Pompeii*, Christopher Newport University
Topics: Hazards and Vulnerability, Cultural and Political Ecology, Hazards, Risks, and Disasters
Keywords: social vulnerability, drought, hazards, water,
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The Great California Drought experienced between 2012- 2014 was the driest period in the state in the last 1200 years (Griffin and Achukaitis 2014). As the most productive agricultural region in the United State the San Joaquin Valley, which includes Tulare County, is particularly vulnerable (Faunt 2009). Ninety-five percent of water usage in the SJV is used for agricultural purposes (Zelezny et al. 2015). A majority of this water-use comes from groundwater sources. Groundwater withdraw in the California Central Valley has significantly increased during recent drought years (2003-2010) (Famiglietti et al. 2011). The pressures of the drought are further magnified by regional climate change models that project that the “exceptional” conditions of the Great Drought are likely to increase in probability in the near future (Diffenbaugh et al. 2015). Social vulnerability in the SJV involves undocumented communities, economies dependent on groundwater, a limited understanding of groundwater availability and usage, and a disparity between who is benefiting and who is neglected in the current water provision paradigm. This paper identifies how exposure to the drought was funneled to the most marginalized populations: undocumented immigrant farm laborers.

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