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Disadvantaged unincorporated communities and the struggle for water justice in California

Jonathan K. London
Department of Human Ecology, University of California Davis, Davis, USA; jklondon@ucdavis.edu

Amanda L. Fencl
Department of Geography, Texas A&M University, College Station, USA; alfencl@tamu.edu

Sara Watterson
Center for Regional Change, University of California Davis, Davis USA; swatterson@ucdavis.edu

Yasmina Choueiri
Geography Graduate Group, University of California Davis, Davis, USA; ynchoueiri@ucdavis.edu

Phoebe Seaton
Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, Sacramento, USA; pseaton@leadershipcounsel.org

Jennifer Jarin
School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, USA; jjarin@berkeley.edu

Mia Dawson
Geography Graduate Group, University of California Davis, Davis, USA; mkdawson@ucdavis.edu

Alfonso Aranda
Geography Graduate Group, University of California Davis, Davis, USA; aaaranda@ucdavis.edu

Aaron King
Luhdorff and Scalmanini Consulting Engineers Davis, USA; aking@lsce.com

Peter Nguyen
Geography Graduate Group, University of California Davis, Davis, USA; pvtnguyen@ucdavis.edu

Camille Pannu
Water Justice Clinic, Aoki Center for Critical Race and Nation Studies, UC Davis School of Law, Davis, USA; camille.pannu@gmail.com

Laurel Firestone
Community Water Center, Sacramento, USA; laurel.firestone@gmail.com

Colin Bailey
Consultant, Sacramento, USA; colinbailey@gmail.com

ABSTRACT: This article maps a meshwork of formal and informal elements of places called Disadvantaged Unincorporated Communities (DUCs) to understand the role of informality in producing unjust access to safe drinking water in California’s San Joaquin Valley. It examines the spatial, racial, and class-based dimensions of informality. The paper aims to both enrich the literature on informality studies and use the concept of informality to expand research on DUCs and water access. We use socio-spatial analyses of the relationships between informality and water justice to reach the following conclusions: DUCs face severe problems in access to safe drinking water; disparities in access have a spatial dimension; inequities in water access are racialised; the proximity of DUCs to safe drinking water offers good potential for improved water access; and the challenges of informality are targeted through water justice advocacy and public policy.

KEYWORDS: Drinking water, human right to water, Disadvantaged Unincorporated Communities, informality, California