Doctoral Dissertation Research: Access regimes and irrigation technology: Where does the water “soft path” for agriculture lead?
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Water conservation technologies and policies are increasingly adopted for agriculture in semi-arid environments as demand increases while supplies dwindle. The roll-out of these devices is tied to a broader trend in water policy that advocates a "water soft path" (WSP), or the use of flexible technologies and demand-management policies for environmental and social sustainability. This project investigates the roll-out of this WSP, the adoption of WSP, and socio-economic outcomes for rural communities. Although WSP has been advocated and implemented widely, there is little existing research on the processes and outcomes of WSP projects as it relates to user access to water resources, particularly for agricultural production in rural areas. This project contributes to research and education integration because the researchers will share data and results with water managers. It promotes training and learning, as data from the project will roll into learning modules for undergraduate courses and geography courses at an international baccalaureate certified secondary school. Furthermore, the project trains a doctoral student in data collection, analysis, and scientific outreach. This research investigates how the water soft path creates new pathways of accessing and using water resources that contribute to larger processes of social and political change in the countryside. The working hypothesis for this research is that irrigation-efficiency devices and the institutional framework supporting them provide new pathways for some farmers to access to water resources for agricultural production. This project addresses the major research question through an empirical case study of water-soft path in the central Mexican state of Guanajuato, a major agricultural exporter to the United States. The research design uses a reproducible mixed-method approach, including interviews, participant observation, questionnaires, and surveys. This project will: (1) Describe how WSP emerged in response to scientific and regional discourses of water scarcity; (2) Examine the mechanisms required to gain access to and benefit from irrigation efficiency devices in the countryside; and (3) Explain how irrigation efficiency devices offer farmers opportunities to respond to water scarcity and continue cultivating land under conditions of climate change.