Monthly Archives: March 2016

Immigration Status and Water Insecurity

What causes household water insecurity, or the struggle for affordable, accessible and reliable water for a healthy life?  Poverty and housing influence the capacities of households to secure drinking water.  We have seen in Flint, Detroit, and Washington DC, epic government failures undermine secure drinking water.  But what about immigration status?  What is the relationship between water insecurity and immigration?

My recent paper, written with my former graduate student Emily Vandewalle, argues that among economically distressed populations on the US-Mexico border, family immigration status was the most important predictive factor of drinking water insecurity.  What does that mean?  Well, we wanted to look at a population that was highly vulnerable to water insecurity and identify what demographic or other factors contributed water insecurity within a similar population.  But the most significant predictor of household water insecurity for families living in colonias was mixed-status household, not relative poverty, housing type, or even age profiles.  The analysis indicates that “mixed status” households were 4.2 times more likely to be water insecure than households with members who were all documented (legal residents or U.S. citizens). Although households in which all members are unauthorized residents indicate in increased the likelihood (1.2 times) of water insecurity, the results were not statistically insignificant.

We suggest that everyday behaviors and choices in response to precarious immigration status might “spill over” into other insecurities, including household water insecurity. Negotiating the immigration regime is defined by avoiding exposure to authorities. Connection to public services might also be a perceived vulnerability and exposure point. Another form of “protection,” confirmed anecdotally in field research, is the reliance or dependency on private water delivery—either trucked or vending machines. This allows individuals to manage chronic problems of water access and quality without directly engaging the water supply corporations or municipal services. While more research is needed, it could be that knock-on effects may include increased costs of water, dependency on unregulated water sources, and increased water distress.

Exploring these specific interactions is beyond the scope of this study, but we believe that future research should explore how immigration status might influence interactions with local water governance regimes as a significant factor in water insecurity.

Here is a link to the paper in The Professional Geographer                                                                        

Water Security at the AAG in San Francisco

The paper and panel line-up for the “Water Security? Critical Geographical Engagements” at the American Association of Geographers (AAG) Annual Meeting in San Francisco covers a range of scholars and topics.  Jessica Budds (Water Security Centre, East Anglia), Alex Loftus (King’s College), Vanessa Empinotti (UF do ABC, Brazil), and I co-organized sessions scheduled on Thursday, 3/31/2016, from 1:20 PM – 3:00 PM in Union Square 22, Hilton Hotel, 4th Floor.

Water security is a term that has gained significantly in popularity, appealing to a wide range of social and natural scientists who are interested in “securing” water for humans and ecosystems, amid concerns about increasing climatic and political economic pressures on water resources.  However, the term tends to be used very loosely, and/or is interpreted very differently across stakeholders, sectors and disciplines.  Cook and Bakker (2012) have demonstrated the very different analytical approaches, measurement methods and indices, and scales of analysis proposed to assess water security, while Loftus (2014) argues that many applications of the concept understate or neglect the politics that underpin inequalities in access to water.  These sessions will build on critical geographical engagements with “security”, in order to think through water (in)security and its implications both conceptually and empirically.

Paper Session 1

Afton Clarke-Sather – University of Delaware, The Politics of Water Security in Global Green and Virtual Water Discourses

Anne-Marie Debbane – San Diego State University,The Common Sense of Water Security

Alex Loftus – King’s College London  and Hug March – Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, Financialising Desalination: Rethinking the returns of big infrastructure

Vanessa Empinotti – Federal University of ABC, May Water Security challenge institutions? The São Paulo megacity drought case

Jessica Budds – University of East Anglia (Water Security Centre), Water security and water markets: The paradox of responses to scarcity in Chile

Paper Session 2

Trevor Birkenholtz – University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Surplus and Security: An Analysis of India’s National River-linking Project

Wendy Jepson, Texas A&M University, Water security, justice, and technology

Robert Patrick, PhD – University of Saskatchewa, Water (in)security and First Nations: Canada’s colonial hydro-politic

Emma S. Norman – Northwest Indian College, The problem is blowing in the wind: Water (in)security, scalar politics, and environmental justice of atmosphere-surface exchangeable pollutants

Panel Session

Chair: Alex Loftus – King’s College London
Patricia Gober – Arizona State University
Leila Harris – University of British Columbia
Kathleen Mary O’Reilly – Texas A&M University
Wendy Elizabeth Jepson – Texas A&M University
Kathryn Furlong – Université De Montréal
Eric P. Perramond – Colorado College
Katie Meehan – University of Oregon

Questions that the papers and panel address are:

  • What are the tensions between applied approaches to water security and perspectives from critical human geography?
  • What does “water security” set out to secure, how, and at what scale(s)?
  • What political work does “water security” do, and what agendas does it serve?
  • How do we know what “secure water” is?
  • What epistemologies/methods are used to approach water security, and to what extent do they reinforce, justify, or disrupt existing water governance regimes?
  • What are the synergies and tensions between water security and other similar paradigms that could be broadly seen as seeking to achieve secure water, such as water governance, water justice, and the human right to water?