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, Legal Geography
Keywords: Water, political ecology, Oregon, urbanization, hydrosocial
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/8/2021
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Virtual 49
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

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