A new era of big infrastructure? (Re)developing water storage in the U.S. West in the context of climate change and environmental regulation

Denielle M. Perry
Department of Geography, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR, USA dperry3@uoregon.edu

Sarah J. Praskievicz
Department of Geography, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL, USA spraskievicz@ua.edu

ABSTRACT: For most of the 20th century, water policy in the western United States was driven by the construction of large dams and other big infrastructural projects to increase water storage. By the 1980s, however, most optimal sites were developed or protected through conservation policies. Today, climate change and growing water demands pose new challenges for water management. Consequently, policy-makers are once again advocating for water storage. In the U.S. and other developed countries, this return to supply-side solutions is manifesting in auxiliary infrastructural projects such as dam augmentation and aquifer storage and recovery (ASR). We argue that the return to a high-modernist reliance on big infrastructure is not limited to developing countries and illustrate the rise of auxiliary infrastructure using two case studies in California and Oregon. Our analysis suggests these auxiliary infrastructural projects are appealing to water managers because they purport to accommodate the demand for new water-governance strategies while working within the limitations imposed by past infrastructural development and environmental policy. Nevertheless, increasing storage capacity alone is insufficient for water management in the context of climate change, for demand-side strategies must also be pursued.

KEYWORDS: Political ecology, climate change, adaptation, conservation policy, water governance, infrastructure