Folder Issue 1



Viewpoint: An intersectional approach to water equity in the US

Andrea K. Gerlak
School of Geography, Development & Environment, Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, USA;

Elena Louder
School of Geography, Development & Environment, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, USA;

Helen Ingram
Urban Planning and Public Policy, School of Social Ecology, University of California, Irvine, California, USA;

ABSTRACT: In the United States today, there is growing concern over what is being referred to as a 'water crisis', but which is, in fact, a crisis of equity in water access. This concern has been exacerbated and illuminated by the COVID-19 pandemic. This paper draws on reports from leading NGOs, activist groups and media sources, on commentary from high-profile water actors, and on emerging academic literature. In the process of these investigations, it uncovers a tendency to frame the water crisis primarily in terms of affordability; it also notes widespread concern over access and water quality issues. All of these are fundamentally related to equity principles. We argue here that seeing America’s water crisis as being about equity of access provides an opportunity to foreground the historic inequities revealed by the pandemic and by the subsequent economic downturn. A broader, intersectional approach can open-up the problem framing of water equity in the US to include histories of racism and colonialism. An intersectional approach allows for a more integrated and holistic analysis of the ways in which social difference shapes access, quality and affordability of water. Underlying power structures can be revealed through a better understanding of how water inequities result from broader patterns of systemic racism and colonial relations. Ultimately, this improved understanding can result in interventions that disrupt familiar patterns of inequality. As the idea of a water crisis in the US comes into the mainstream, the paper offers a point from which academics can begin to frame their research and a base from which practitioners can consider how to better achieve equity in water governance.

KEYWORDS: Equity, water crisis, intersectionality, race, power, US



Mutual water systems and the formation of racial inequality in Los Angeles County

Justin McBride
University of California Los Angeles Department of Urban Planning, Los Angeles, United States of America,

ABSTRACT: Environmental justice scholarship has indicated that a deeper contextualisation of histories and institutions is key to moving beyond simple perpetrator–victim paradigms of environmental injustice. Such contextualisation calls for recentring the state and the firm in analysis. This study answers that call by exploring five small private non-profit drinking water systems in the Los Angeles County communities of Maywood and Cudahy. Using data from Internal Revenue Service tax returns and various publicly available documents, I argue that the five firms are deeply implicated in the ongoing production of racial difference. The internal dynamics of the firms exhibit corruption and the stifling of community concerns, even while at times the firms provided unclean water. The state has supported these conditions both tacitly and actively at several scales. Even though the firms are not typical large for-profit investor-owned utilities, under the processes of racial capitalism their unique structure has enabled them to participate in the formation of environmental injustice and has made them an important part of the mosaic of forces contributing to overall environmental racism in the region.

KEYWORDS: Mutual water company, racial capitalism, corruption, social movements, Los Angeles, USA




Native American Tribes and dam removal: Restoring the Ottaway, Penobscot and Elwha rivers

Coleen A. Fox
Dartmouth College, Geography and Environmental Studies, Hanover, NH, USA;

Nicholas J. Reo
Dartmouth College, Native American Studies and Environmental Studies, Hanover, NH, USA;

Brett Fessell
Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, Peshawbestown, MI, USA;

Frank Dituri
City of Traverse City Department of Public Services, Traverse City, MI, USA;

ABSTRACT: Since the early 1900s, more than 1700 dams have been removed from rivers in the United States. Native American Tribes have played a key role in many significant removals, bringing cultural, economic, and legal resources to bear on the process. Their involvement contrasts with the displacement and marginalisation that have historically characterised the relationship between Native Americans and the dams built by settler – colonial governments on their rivers. Our research investigates Tribal involvement in dam removals, with examples from the Ottaway, Penobscot, and Elwha rivers. We ask the following: what roles have Tribes played in successful removals? How do dam removals affect and reflect shifting relations between Tribal governments and non-Tribal actors? Our research finds that Tribal involvement provides opportunities for inserting underacknowledged values and resource claims into dam removal efforts, and that it facilitates new collaborations and alliances. We also find evidence of Tribal involvement affecting the nature and practice of river restoration through dam removal. We conclude that the involvement of Tribes in dam removal contributes to important shifts in environmental politics in the US, and that it also creates opportunities for restorative environmental justice for Native Americans and their rivers.

KEYWORDS: Native American Tribes, dam removal, Indigeneity, restorative environmental justice, political ecology




The work that goes into policy transfer: Making the Dutch delta approach travel

Shahnoor Hasan
Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research, University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands; and Water Governance Department, IHE Delft Institute for Water Education, the Netherlands;

Jaap Evers
Water Governance Department, IHE Delft Institute for Water Education, the Netherlands;

Margreet Zwarteveen
Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research, University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands; and Water Governance Department, IHE Delft Institute for Water Education, the Netherlands;

ABSTRACT: The government of the Netherlands actively frames the country’s delta planning expertise as a must-have solution for sustainable delta management in other countries. Texts that explain or promote the transfer of delta planning expertise tend to portray it as something that happens because of the intrinsic qualities of this expertise. The starting point of this paper is discomfort with this portrayal. This discomfort importantly stems from the hierarchy it assumes between the country of origin and the country of destination, with the former ranking higher in terms of degree of development and technological advancement. We mobilise insights from the sociology of translation and from the anthropology of development cooperation and scholarship on policy entrepreneurship to explore how the story of policy transfer can be told in ways that are more symmetrical and which recognise the contributions of all involved. Empirical material about the travels of the Dutch Delta Programme to Vietnam and Bangladesh reveals that policy transfer in these cases mainly consisted of two types of work: maintaining or developing alliances and creating political buy-in. The effectiveness of the actors involved in the work does not so much depend on the technical planning or water expertise for which many of them are hired; rather, it depends on their salespersonship, diplomacy, and skills in negotiation and dialoguing. Recognising that this is so provides a good basis for rethinking how capacities for effective transfer can be developed and nurtured, and how these are and should be distributed. It also supports more dialogical ways of writing and talking about transfer, ways that foreground the mutual learning that occurs between 'initiators' and 'receivers'.

KEYWORDS: Dutch Delta Programme, policy transfer, policy translation, policy entrepreneurship, Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100, Mekong Delta Plan




Hydro-hegemony, water governance, and water security: Palestinians under Israeli occupation in the Jordan Valley, West Bank

Michelle Rudolph
International Institute of Social Studies (ISS), Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Hague, The Netherlands;

Rachel Kurian
International Institute of Social Studies (ISS), Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Hague, The Netherlands;

ABSTRACT: 'Hydro-hegemony' typically refers to the power-related tactics and strategies used by stronger states in transboundary water disputes that prioritise their access to water and compel weaker entities to submit to these conditions. Such asymmetrical power relations also have a bearing on the nature of water governance, and thereby, the water and human security of vulnerable water users, as detailed in the conceptual framework of this article. Our analysis of the case of the West Bank, and more specifically the Jordan Valley, shows how Israeli control over the region – most visibly manifested in superior weaponry along with greater economic and technological capacities – influences the institutions of water governance as well as decision-making and implementation processes in favour of Israel while deliberately generating water and human insecurity for Palestinians. During fieldwork in 2019, we interviewed Palestinian water users in the Jordan Valley as well as representatives of water governance and other related institutions in the West Bank. Their 'voices' highlight the different dimensions that lead to water insecurity being structural, systemic, and pervasive in the daily lives of Palestinians. Their water insecurity in the context of military occupation is linked to their overall human insecurity. As a result, Palestinians are denied not only their right to water but potentially also their right to life.

KEYWORDS: Hydro-hegemony, water governance, water security, human security, Palestinians, Jordan Valley, West Bank




Exploring 100 Years of Finnish transboundary water interactions with Russia: An historical analysis of diplomacy and cooperation

Juho Haapala
Aalto University, Espoo, Finland;

Marko Keskinen
Aalto University, Espoo, Finland;

ABSTRACT: This study combines the strengths of historical studies and analytical approaches on transboundary water interactions to establish an historical process perspective on transboundary waters. The study analytically separates transboundary water cooperation, water diplomacy, and their broader political setting, and analyses their interplay over a long period of time. The paper presents a detailed case study on the development and transformation of Finnish-Russian transboundary water interactions over the last 100 years, with an emphasis on Finland and its relationship with the Soviet Union/Russia after World War II. The setting remains relatively understudied despite its intriguing characteristics and its importance to the pioneering of water cooperation arrangements such as reciprocal compensation mechanisms. Using four distinct time periods, the study scrutinises how water diplomacy actors, institutional developments, broader political environs, and historical occurrences have ultimately led to the current cooperative setting. The findings emphasise the role played by societal trends in steering politics and water diplomacy as well as in the crafting of transboundary water cooperation. They also indicate how establishing an institutional basis for cooperation requires both political commitment and technical expertise, often over a very long period of time. The findings demonstrate how the institutions of cooperation, once they emerged, resulted in a rather self-governing operating body for everyday transboundary interaction, replacing water diplomacy as the dominant means of interaction in the studied context. Analysing historical trajectories helps to critically investigate our current discourses and practices and to understand the impact that broader societal trends have on transboundary water interactions.

KEYWORDS: Historical analysis, water diplomacy, transboundary water cooperation, international waters, water history, historical institutionalism, Finland, Russia, the Soviet Union




The limits of federal state capacity in managing Australia’s Murray-Darling River Basin

Stephen Bell
School of Political Science and International Studies, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia;

ABSTRACT: This paper is about the capacity of the federal government in Australia to achieve its stated water management and environmental goals in relation to the Murray-Darling River system via its Murray-Darling Basin Plan of 2012. The paper uses a 'state capacity' approach. One aspect of state capacity is about the state's broad institutional capabilities; these are the ways in which the state's resources and policy instruments, its institutions, and its knowledge and data capabilities can shape the state's capacity to achieve its stated goals. The second aspect is relational, emphasising the notion of 'infrastructural power', or how states might be able to achieve their goals by working cooperatively with major interlocutors in the broader state or in society. These two aspects are typically viewed from a state-centric perspective, with the state depicted as using its broad institutional capacities to help further its relational or infrastructural power over other interlocutors. In contrast, this paper shows how this process has been reversed, and how key interlocutors, including important players in federal and state governments and powerful irrigation interests, have instead drawn resources from and manipulated the key institutional elements of state capacity to suit their own interests, weaken the federal state’s infrastructural power, and subvert the stated aims of the Basin Plan.

KEYWORDS: State capacity, Murray-Darling Basin, water governance, institutions, infrastructural power, Australia.




Water extractivism and decolonial struggles in Mapuche territory, Chile

Robinson Torres
Department of Sociology, Faculty of Social Sciences & Department of Land Planning, Faculty of Environmental Sciences, Universidad de Concepción, Concepción 4070386, Chile;

Gerardo Azócar
Department of Land Planning, Faculty of Environmental Sciences, Universidad de Concepción, Concepción 4070386, Chile;

Roberto Gallardo
Department of Land Planning, Faculty of Environmental Sciences, Universidad de Concepción, Concepción 4070386, Chile;

Julio Mendoza
National Commission for Irrigation and Regional Government of La Araucanía, Temuco, Chile;

ABSTRACT: Forestry plantations on Mapuche lands in southern Chile are a critical socio-environmental issue. Through the lens of political ecology and using methods based on historical review, spatial data representation and ethnographic interviews, we propose the concept of water extractivism. We argue that its development via forestry expansion contributes to the lack of drinking water in Mapuche territory, a South American area with significant claims for land, water, native forests, human rights and political autonomy. Our findings reveal the coloniality of nature as it has been manifested in the development of water extractivism in southern Chile. This process began in 1881 with the dispossession of Mapuche communities from their lands by the state, and it continued during the 20th century with colonisation and the introduction of forestry plantations. The last two decades of socio-environmental problems have stemmed from forestry plantations related to a lack of drinking water. Decolonialisation struggles deployed by members of the Mapuche communities through direct action politics and in institutional arenas are among the main social responses to the negative consequences of water extractivism. We conclude by valuing the concept of water extractivism as an analytical tool within decolonial political ecology and we discuss the meaning of the current Mapuche decolonial struggles for water and cultural sustainability.

KEYWORDS: Forestry monoculture, Agua Potable Rural (APR), water trucks, decolonial political ecology, Wallmapu, Chile




Defend, retreat and attack: Urban waters and valuation practices

Jesper Petersson
University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden;

Linda Soneryd
University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden;

ABSTRACT: This paper explores the river landscapes and concomitant values resulting from tensions between flood management and visions of a River City. The aim is to contribute to an understanding of the management of urban waters as valuation practices. We regard valuation practices as co-constitutive of current and future river landscapes. Sweden’s second-largest city, Gothenburg, is located next to the sea, and the Göta River, Sweden’s largest water system, runs through it. Our empirical focus is on how this city approaches increasing risks of flooding. We explore three approaches that have been formulated in relation to flood management: defend, retreat and attack. We ask how these approaches are applied in the management of Göta River flooding and in the city’s vision of a future Gothenburg that embraces the river as a genuinely positive aspect of urban life. We present the case as a journey that takes us upstream from the river’s sea inlet port and through Gothenburg. During our kilometre by kilometre journey, the river’s appearance shifts. The varied river landscape mirrors the diversity in how its waters are valuated, both historically and in present times. The perception of urban waters is shaped by practices of valuation. These valuations are generative. They connect the value of water to other entities, actors, plans, activities and buildings, and they are thus key to the river landscapes that will eventually be realised. By way of conclusion, we identify a number of governance challenges that are particularly relevant to urban rivers.

KEYWORDS: Flood management, urban planning, visions, river landscapes, valuation practices, Sweden