Rural-urban water conflicts amid socio-environmental change

Type: Virtual Paper
Sponsor Groups: Water Resources Specialty Group, Cultural and Political Ecology Specialty Group, Legal Geography Specialty Group
Poster #:
Day: 4/8/2021
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM (PDT)
Room: Virtual 49
Organizers: Sophia Borgias
Chairs: Kate Berry


Cities have long looked to rural areas for water supplies, and that trend is increasing amid rapid urbanization (Garrick et al. 2019). A four-fold increase in urban populations since 1960 has contributed to a growing number of rural-urban water conflicts (Molden 2007), and urban water demand is projected to increase by 50-80% by 2050 (Flörke et al. 2018). More than a century of social, regulatory, and environmental change has transformed the debates and discourses surrounding rural-to-urban water transfer projects (Hommes et al. 2019; Molle and Berkoff 2009; Nunn and Ingram 1988). Though historically framed in terms of competition and reallocation between cities and agriculture (Molle and Berkoff 2009), rural-urban water conflicts today often hinge on issues of environmental justice, Indigenous rights, ecological restoration, human rights, and governance. Geographers have highlighted the diverse interests, values, and visions of water and land at play in rural-urban water conflicts, conceptualized as struggles over hydrosocial territory (Hommes et al. 2019; Hommes and Boelens 2017) and water justice (Boelens et al. 2018; Veldwisch 2018; Zwarteveen and Boelens 2014).

This paper session will feature contributions that shed light on the shifting materialities, discourses, and conflicts associated with rural-to-urban water transfers in the context of social, regulatory, and environmental change. We welcome papers from a broad range of theoretical and methodological approaches, including political ecology, legal geography, science and technology studies, actor-network theory, institutional analysis, and state theory. We encourage papers that engage with the following topics and themes:

• discourses and narratives about rural-urban water conflicts
• rural-urban water conflicts as struggles over hydrosocial territories
• infrastructure and materiality of rural-to-urban water transfers
• state power in rural-urban water conflicts
• unlikely alliances forming in opposition to (or in favor of) rural-to-urban water conflicts
• Indigenous and other under-represented perspectives on rural-urban water conflicts
• legal frameworks governing rural-to-urban water transfers
• water markets, speculation, and water rights transactions
• initiatives to reduce urban reliance on imported water
• movements for water justice and water sovereignty

Boelens, Rutgerd, Tom Perreault, and Jeroen Vos, eds. 2018. Water Justice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018. doi:10.1017/9781316831847.

Flörke, Martina, Christof Schneider, and Robert I. McDonald. 2018. “Water Competition between Cities and Agriculture Driven by Climate Change and Urban Growth.” Nature Sustainability 1 (1): 51–58.

Garrick, Dustin, Lucia De Stefano, Winston Yu, Isabel Jorgensen, Erin O’Donnell, Laura Turley, Ismael Aguilar-Barajas et al. 2019. “Rural Water for Thirsty Cities: A Systematic Review of Water Reallocation from Rural to Urban Regions.” Environmental Research Letters 14 (4): 043003.

Hommes, Lena, Gert Jan Veldwisch, Leila M. Harris, and Rutgerd Boelens. 2019. “Evolving Connections, Discourses and Identities in Rural–Urban Water Struggles.” Water International 44 (2): 243–53.

Hommes, Lena, and Rutgerd Boelens. 2017. “Urbanizing Rural Waters: Rural-Urban Water Transfers and the Reconfiguration of Hydrosocial Territories in Lima.” Political Geography 57 (March): 71–80.

Molden, David. 2007. “Water Responses to Urbanization.” Paddy and Water Environment 5 (4): 207–9.

Molle, Francois, and Jeremy Berkoff. 2009. “Cities vs. Agriculture: A Review of Intersectoral Water Re-Allocation.” Natural Resources Forum 33 (1): 6–18.

Nunn, Susan Christopher and Helen M. Ingram. 1988. “Information, the Decision Forum, and Third-Party Effects in Water Transfers.” Water Resources Research 24 (4): 473–80.

Veldwisch, G.J.A., Jennifer Franco, and Lyla Mehta. (2018). Water grabbing: Practices of contestation and appropriation of water resources in the context of expanding global capital. In R. Boelens, T. Perreault, & J. Vos (Eds.), Water Justice (pp. 59-70). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Zwarteveen, Margreet Z., and Rutgerd Boelens. 2014. “Defining, Researching and Struggling for Water Justice: Some Conceptual Building Blocks for Research and Action.” Water International 39 (2): 143–58.


Type Details Minutes Start Time
Presenter Prakriti Shukla*, University of Michigan, Unjust Waters: Water Allocation Reforms That Produce Hydrosocial Territories in Mumbai’s Hinterlands 15 8:00 AM
Presenter Sophia Layser Borgias*, University of Nevada, Reno, Unlikely alliances in rural-urban water conflicts 15 8:15 AM
Presenter Matt Birkinshaw*, Aga Khan University, Grabbing groundwater: capture and extraction in the urban political economy 15 8:30 AM
Presenter Ella Belfer*, University of California - Berkeley, Jenny Rempel*, University of California - Berkeley, Surfacing overlying rights: assessing transitions in overlying rights to California’s groundwater basins 15 8:45 AM
Presenter Alida Cantor*, Portland State University, Pipeline politics: Urbanization and hydrosocial change in Oregon’s Deschutes River Basin 15 9:00 AM

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