First Advisor

Alida Cantor

Term of Graduation

Spring 2022

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.) in Geography







Physical Description

1 online resource (viii, 140 pages)


In response to water scarcity, irrigation efficiency projects aim to conserve water for in-stream flow and agricultural use. Piping irrigation canals is a common irrigation efficiency method which reduces the loss of incidental recharge, resulting in trade-offs within a hydrosocial system. Few studies have focused on the consequences of canal piping and none have integrated a critical analysis of the social factors involved in deciding what constitutes 'efficient' water use. This study seeks to fill this gap by combining natural and social science to give attention to the scales and perspectives involved in irrigation efficiency canal piping and the material impacts of 'efficient' water use in central Oregon's Upper Deschutes Basin. From a political ecology lens, I analyze interviews with water managers to uncover the knowledge, values, and motives embedded in the implementation of irrigation efficiency to determine what factors characterize the use of 'efficiency' in water management. I integrate these factors with a spatial analysis of common public concerns surrounding irrigation efficiency in the basin, including shallow well failure caused by the elimination of 'wasteful' leakage. I combine GIS techniques with U.S. Geological Survey groundwater models to determine the extent of vulnerable shallow wells in proximity to irrigation canal piping. Irrigation canal piping is fully supported by water managers in the Upper Deschutes as a means of physically shifting the flow of water towards uses that are most valued, including in-stream flow and providing water to commercial agriculture. The discourses and social construction of water as 'natural' and 'artificial' encourage the support of canal piping, yet at the same time they overlook the water users reliant on the canal seepage. Water managers rely on basin-scale model predictions when defining the potential trade-offs in canal piping despite there being a serious lack of shallow groundwater monitoring data. Where data exists near piped canals, it appears that shallow groundwater is declining but it is difficult to know the extent of vulnerable water users at this time. By integrating the technical and social results of this study, I demonstrate that critical physical geography and a hydrosocial lens can contribute to a deeper, more nuanced understanding of the benefits and trade-offs of co-managing surface water and groundwater to achieve resiliency in a quickly growing, socially heterogeneous basin.


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