Changing Patterns of Water, Access, and Public Discourse in the Lower Colorado River Valley of Texas, 1970-2015
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This mixed-methods study analyzes changes in water, access, and public discourse in the lower Colorado River valley of Texas from 1970 to 2015. The waters of the lower Colorado River have sustained urban populations and agricultural operations for over a century. Yet, recent, rapid urban growth and a changing climate have led to the prioritization of urban water uses over agricultural water uses. Public discourses, captured by the news media, have documented the mechanisms urban and agricultural water interests have used to maintain, acquire, or control its water resources. Therefore, the purpose of this research is to examine the spatial and temporal patterns of water use and access between urban and agricultural interests, to identify periods of change in water use and access among urban and agricultural water interests, and to analyze the mechanisms that urban and agricultural water interests used to enable or constrain water access. My findings suggest that social, political, economic, and environmental conditions influence who gets water, when, where, and for what purposes and that water use and access has evolved through three distinct periods of change. Urban interests have increasingly expanded their influence in decisions related to water distribution and access by entering into strategic alliances with the regional water authority and by leveraging the power of local and state officials in water matters. Agricultural interests, however, have struggled to maintain access to their historic share of water despite forming new social ties and outlining water’s economic importance.