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Professional Geographer

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agriculture, alfalfa, California drought, gobernanza hídrica, sequía, water governance


California experienced a severe multiyear drought stretching from 2011 through 2017, significantly reducing surface water supply for ecosystems, agriculture, and humans and prompting coordinated conservation efforts. Given that agriculture is the largest consumptive use of water in the state, one anticipated response to a severe drought would be to decrease production of low-value, high-water-use crops such as alfalfa. In this article we use a multimethod approach to examine both spatial distribution and public perceptions of alfalfa production in California over the course of the 2011 through 2017 drought. We find that although California alfalfa production did decline at the state level, it persisted and even increased in specific areas of the state. We also find that alfalfa persisted even though discourses and understandings that were critical of alfalfa production emerged in public forums during this time. We situate these findings within a broader context of California’s water management system, which meant that in practice, infrastructure and water rights allocation practices left many growers with little incentive to change growing practices, even in the face of serious meteorological drought.


This is the author’s version of a work. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made to this work since it was submitted for publication. A definitive version was subsequently published in The Professional Geographer, 1-14.



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