(Re)making of a rural region through large-scale water infrastructure: Unruliness, opportunities, and an uncertain future in Montana, USA

Authors: Grete Gansauer*, Montana State University, Julia Haggerty, Montana State University
Topics: Rural Geography, Resources, Urban and Regional Planning
Keywords: Rural, Regional Governance, Infrastructure, American West, Water
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/8/2021
Start / End Time: 1:30 PM / 2:45 PM
Room: Virtual 4
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Rural institutions must deliver public services across large geographic areas using limited resources. This challenge is familiar to many public administrators, but political-economic restructuring in the latter twentieth century causes rural public institutions walk the line between diminishing revenues and increasing regulatory demands. Regional governance collaborations are one antidote to this rural public services paradox, allowing small towns to pool resources, collaborate, access new forms of financial and political capital, and ultimately achieve ends they could not on their own. However, when regional-scale physical infrastructure is the object of collaboration, a new set of material and governance complications arise that are especially salient in a rural context. In this case study we trace the governance, political, and material dimensions of the Central Montana Regional Water Authority in Montana, USA. This system is a 300+ mile long network of pipelines that will connect several individual small towns in an agricultural region. Our analysis reveals that the rural context of this regional-infrastructural solution to water hardship makes for unruly and fragmented governance, newfound opportunities in political and financial capital, but ultimately an uncertain future for the region as a whole. While most critical scholarship in both regional and infrastructure studies has been developed in an urban context, this paper places rurality at the center of inquiry and reveals that rural regional infrastructure governance faces a unique set of pressures. We hope this paper will contribute to ongoing debates about the role of infrastructure and regionalism in rural development and public service provision.

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