Does It Hold Water?: Drought in California from 1959 – 2017
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Does It Hold Water?: Drought in California from 1959 – 2017

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Drawing upon in-depth archival research from California state bodies, scientific publications, stakeholder organizations, and newspaper articles, I present findings on how drought has been made and remade as a fact in California from 1959 - 2017. I study drought as a fact that is shaped by institutions, infrastructures, scientific research, water distribution, and other practices. I use the framework reiterated fact making to analyze the conditions of possibility, path dependencies, and networks of expertise that explain the continuities and changes between four officially declared droughts in California: 1976 – 1977, 1987 – 1992, 2007 – 2009, and 2012 – 2017.Three conditions of possibility laid the foundations for drought to emerge as a fact in California. First, the structure of California’s water rights system led to a hierarchy of water access that shaped where water was delivered and whose shortages constituted a drought. The second was state government's commitment to water management through large infrastructure projects, making it possible for local water conditions to be disconnected from water supplies. Finally, the emergence of a meteorological interest in drought’s physical indicators would transform drought from a socio-economic disaster to a complex but scientific phenomenon. Material path dependencies like the State Water Project shaped drought by altering the relationship between place and water, making it possible for drought to become a statewide problem by connecting Central and Southern California to Northern California's water conditions. The infrastructure project made it possible for further population and agricultural growth that altered drought again. Finally, definitions of drought in the 1920s - 1930s continue to shape drought today through runoff calculations and water year classification systems. Networks of expertise built up around drought changed over the last sixty years, changing drought itself. Climate scientists, environmental scientists, environmental activists, and Native American tribes entered a network already comprised of engineers, agricultural stakeholders, and water managers. Drought changed from a question of having enough water for agricultural and urban development in the 1960s to a complex, meteorological phenomenon that impacts farmers, cities, fish, ecosystems, and traditional cultures.

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This item is under embargo until June 16, 2024.