Cooperation, fragmentation and control: News media representations of changing water access from Austin to the Texas rice belt

Brendan L. Lavy
Department of Environmental Sciences, Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, TX, USA;

ABSTRACT: The waters of the Lower Colorado River Valley of Texas have sustained urban populations and agricultural operations for over a century. More recently, however, rapid urban growth, continued economic development, and a changing climate have led to the prioritisation of urban over agricultural water uses. This research analyses public discourse found in newspaper coverage of water-related issues to understand how media represents two decades of change in the control of water resources along an urban-to-agricultural gradient. It documents the changing relationship between long-established commercial agricultural water users and the increasing water demands of one of North Americaʼs fastest growing urban areas and identifies the discourses and counter-discourses that are used by urban and agricultural interests to constrain or enable access to the basinʼs water resources. Findings indicate that the water-related discourse has evolved through distinct periods of cooperation, fragmentation and control. These periods are defined by the mechanisms that urban and agricultural interests have used to constrain or enable water access. Themes identified suggest that urban interests have increasingly expanded their influence in decisions related to water distribution and that they have done so by forming strategic alliances with the regional water authority and by leveraging the power of local and state officials in water matters. Agricultural interests have, in the meantime, struggled to maintain access to their historic share of water despite forming new social ties with environmental organisations and despite outlining the importance of water to the local economy.

KEYWORDS: Water resources, allocation, access, media, discourse analysis, Texas