In April this year, I was lucky enough to go to the Association of American Geographers (AAG) conference in New Orleans to present work on the DRY project. Although our project is interdisciplinary, we have a strong geographical component through our catchment-based approach, our attempts to geo-locate stories and drought-science resources, and due to the disciplinary interests of multiple team members. We have been thinking about how place (sense of place, place identity, place attachment) inflects people’s perceptions of local water and weather-related risks, such as drought risk, as well as how place-specific capacities and structures might enable or be a barrier to drought adaptations. Our storytelling focus also means that we have been thinking about the scales at which narratives around drought circulate and interact in the UK (from the personal to the global), and considering what a systems approach to story might look like.
Over the course of the week long conference, I attended several sessions with papers about aspects of drought and water resource management in the US context. Jen Henderson from the Cooperative Institute for Research in
Environmental Sciences discussed ‘creeping’, slow-set environmental phenomenon like drought as dynamic, and looked to explore the lessons that were carried over between droughts. Discussing the ‘Buy and Dry’ scheme in
Colorado, where land and water were separated legally so that farmers could sell their water, Henderson looked at the unexpected consequences of such adaptations for drought and explored the way one particular area, Crowley, had become a parable of how not to do it, for other nearby areas, arguing also that farmers effectively sold out their communities when they sold their water. New conceptions of value could occur out of these maladaptations as well as dynamics for avoiding the worst-case scenario. In related papers, especially those in a daylong session on Hazards, Risks, and Disasters papers focused on developing vulnerability and resilience indices/indicators. A paper by Elizabeth Kurtz from Northeastern University, considered the gap in gender dimensions in heat vulnerability. Almost twice as many men suffered from heat in health statistics, though in their own quantitative survey, they found no difference, raising different kinds of questions.
A paper by Kristin Dobbin looked at who is left out of Groundwater reform in California. Following recent severe drought, in 2014 Groundwater Sustainability Agencies were set up to make sure all communities had access to water. Disadvantaged communities were still being underrepresented, which is critical when recognizing that each year one million Californians
receive water that does not meet safe drinking water standards. This paper, and a paper by Amanda Fencl at UC Davis, considered the effects that drought and new water management strategies had for community or small water supplies, including things like wells. California had 3500 self-reported failures of wells during the drought. Fencl explored the idea of ‘inherited’ and ‘aspirational’ responses to drought events within these communities alongside ‘actual’ responses, which would be an interesting framework to test with our own findings in the DRY project.
A session organized by Jamie Linton from Fondation Partenaraile de l’Université de Limoges, explored several projects in the French context that were doing work around the ‘social life of rivers’ and developing Living Rivers, socio-fluvial or socio-natural river indicators which sought to bring human activities and non-use values into river indices (potentially for the
longer-term application of river management/policy). What was interesting, and unique, about the French context was the focus on river restoration projects which seem to be fairly contentious, and have complex relationships with Environmental agencies and meeting the European Water Framework Directive. This isn’t something we have come across in our catchment-based work, although issues around aesthetics and environmental needs have been raised. All of the projects presented shared an attempt to be participatory to differing degrees and inclusive, incorporating local dialogue, citizen science and alternative voices to define how rivers and their catchments are understood, what their value is, and how they might be managed, and could also be incorporating into wider frameworks or indices for understanding drought risk in the UK.
by Liz Roberts