The field of water policy: power and scarcity in the American Southwest (Poupeau et al., 2019)

Douglas S. Kenney

HD Poupeau, F.; O'Neill, B.F.; Cortinas Muñoz, J.; Coeurdray, M. and Benites-Gambirazio, E. 2019. The field of water policy: power and scarcity in the American Southwest. Routledge. ISBN 9780367192594, 230 p., £120, ebook £21.


Douglas S. Kenney

University of Colorado (USA);

To cite this Introduction: Kenney, D.S. 2020. Review of "The field of water policy: power and scarcity in the American Southwest", Routledge, 2019, by F. Poupeau et al., Water Alternatives,


The book is premised on the observation that, in the modern age, coping with water scarcity in the American Southwest is, ultimately, more of a social challenge than a technical one.  This is quite different than the early days of regional settlement and development, when massive infrastructure projects were the means used by early empire-building elites to fashion prosperous irrigation-fueled economies in otherwise inhospitable arid lands.  This subject matter has been covered many times before, but for readers unfamiliar with the giants in this field—names like Wallace Stegner, Marc Reisner, Donald Worster, Edward Abbey—it is all skillfully reviewed herein; a crash course on how the region’s "complex socio-ecological system" came into being.  Building upon this review and using techniques and ideas from the social sciences, including the 'field sociology' construct associated with Pierre Bourdieu, the authors describe the complex web of actors linked today primarily by shared circumstances and concerns, rather than by more deliberate institutional design.  For those with a particular interest in water politics within the State of Arizona, it is all necessary context for understanding the region’s complicated relationship with drought, aridity, and natural limits, all juxtaposed against longstanding commitments to economic growth, resource extraction, and urban expansion.  Explaining the 'social logics' used to craft water policy in an era of scarcity is where this book excels; for those looking for a prescriptive text outlining needed solutions, this is a jumping-off point for that work, rather than the destination.  The weaving of academic theory into the historically-rich case study ensures the target audience is primarily graduate students and other academics.  For that audience, it is a suitable replacement for, and synthesis of, more than a dozen landmark texts authored by the aforementioned giants in the field.  Certainly not as entertaining or rich as those efforts, but a much more pragmatic entry point for modern problem-solvers and researchers.





Additional Info

  • Authors: F. Poupeau, B. Neill, J. Cortinas Muñoz, M. Coeurdray, E. Benites-Gambirazio
  • Year of publication: 2019
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Reviewer: Doug Kenney
  • Subject: Water policy, Water governance, Water politics, Irrigation, Hydrocracies, Dams, Water allocation
  • Type: Introduction
  • Language: English