Water Struggles and Contested Use: A Capabilities Assessment of Household Water Security in Marginalized Communities.

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Journal of Environmental Management

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In this study, we apply a capabilities approach to analyze a water consolidation project and water security outcomes following a severe drought in East Porterville, California. By combining hydro-social theory with the capabilities approach, we provide a holistic approach to household water security that is historically situated, considers residents' needs, and accounts for areas of life beyond hydration and domestic use. In addition, we offer a critical analysis of water system consolidation, a process of combining water systems physically and/or managerially as a solution to water insecurity in small towns. Drawing on interviews with residents, local experts, and government officials as well as archival research and participant observation, we find that the water consolidation project has mixed results for the East Porterville community, with beneficial, limiting, and contested effects on residents' social, cultural, and economic life. Although residents now have a consistent source of water in their homes, they find themselves limited in their ability to use water for drinking and cultural and economic purposes. Water negotiations and contestations also affected property values, independence, and livability. Through this empirical application of the capabilities approach, we demonstrate the need to expand the concept of water security and consolidation outcomes through needs-based perspectives. Furthermore, we show how the coupling of capabilities approach with a hydro-social framework provides descriptive, analytical, and explanatory tools for understanding and addressing household water security.


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