Draining Us Dry: Scarcity Discourses in Contention Over Bottled Water Extraction
Water scarcity is a highly contested concept. The dominant narratives of water scarcity in policy debates have been criticised for prioritising purely quantitative metrics and eliding questions of inequality and power. While much scholarship on water scarcity examines contexts in the global South where potable water infrastructures do not reach most residents, this article examines conflict over commercial water extraction in a Northern setting where access to potable tap water is nearly universal, yet local water supplies are increasingly constrained. It addresses three main questions: (1) How are narratives or discourses of water scarcity mobilised by a range of actors in local conflicts over groundwater extraction for water bottling?; (2) To what extent do these discourses invoke biophysical versus socially produced scarcity, current versus future scarcity, and local versus regional or global scales of scarcity?; and (3) What are the implications of the findings for efforts by environmental advocates and communities to protect local water supplies? We explore these questions by analysing a local case study of conflict over groundwater extraction by the leading bottled water firm, Nestle Waters, in southwestern Ontario, Canada. We find that the scarcity narratives deployed by local residents, activists, public officials, and bottling industry representatives illustrate the use of several forms of figurative conflation involving geographic and temporal scales of water scarcity, and economic and volumetric forms of scarcity. We argue that this conflation illuminates deeper issues of economic and social justice at the heart of the conflict, which transcend reductionist hydrological assessments of scarcity or abundance.
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Jaffee, D., & Case, R. A. (2018). Draining us dry: scarcity discourses in contention over bottled water extraction. Local Environment, 23(4), 485-501.