Special Section: Water in short supply, edited by Kathleen Sullivan and Sayd Randle

Drought, settler law, and the Los Angeles Aqueduct: The shifting political ecology of water scarcity in California's eastern Sierra Nevada

Author: Sophia L. Borgias orcid logo (Boise State University)

  • Drought, settler law, and the Los Angeles Aqueduct: The shifting political ecology of water scarcity in California's eastern Sierra Nevada

    Special Section: Water in short supply, edited by Kathleen Sullivan and Sayd Randle

    Drought, settler law, and the Los Angeles Aqueduct: The shifting political ecology of water scarcity in California's eastern Sierra Nevada

    Author:

Abstract

This article examines how drought intersects with long-standing issues of ecological degradation and social inequity caused by water extraction. I focus on the case of the Los Angeles Aqueduct and its ongoing impacts on communities and ecosystems in the Owens and Mono Basins in the Eastern Sierra region of California. Drawing on ethnographic and policy research, I show how environmental law addressed some of these impacts but reinforced others, perpetuating a settler colonial approach to water management that marginalizes Indigenous communities and naturalizes environmental degradation. Drought has further exacerbated and obscured these issues of degradation and inequity, as Los Angeles has increasingly contested its environmental mitigation obligations and doubled down on the extractive approach that resulted in the need for mitigation in the first place. This research builds upon insights from political ecology and critical legal studies, underscoring how drought exacerbates existing water scarcity but also obscures the role of settler colonial legal frameworks and extractive practices in producing it.

Keywords: drought, political ecology of water, settler colonialism, environmental law, California

How to Cite:

Borgias, S. L., (2024) “Drought, settler law, and the Los Angeles Aqueduct: The shifting political ecology of water scarcity in California's eastern Sierra Nevada”, Journal of Political Ecology 31(1). doi: https://doi.org/10.2458/jpe.5448

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Funding

  • American Association of Geographers, Dissertation Grant
  • Association for Pacific Coast Geographers, Margaret Trussell Scholarship
  • Climate Assessment for the Southwest, Environment and Society Fellowship
  • College of SBS, University of Arizona, Summer Dissertation Fellowship
  • Confluencenter for Creative Inquiry, University of Arizona, Graduate Fellowship
  • GPSC & SGDE, University of Arizona
  • Haury Program in Environment and Social Justice, University of Arizona, Carson Fellowship
  • National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant (grant BCS-1920807)
  • Political Geography Specialty Group of the AAG, Alexander B. Murphy Dissertation Enhancement Award
  • Social and Behavioral Sciences Research Institute, University of Arizona, graduate student grants
  • Society of Woman Geographers, Evelyn L. Pruitt National Dissertation Fellowship

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Published on
06 Jun 2024
Peer Reviewed