Water, Water Everywhere (or, Seeing Is Believing): The Visibility of Water Supply and the Public Will for Conservation

in Nature and Culture
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  • 1 Georgia Institute of Technology k.p.brown@gatech.edu
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Abstract

Why do some arid locations persist in having weak water conservation policies? And why do some wetter locales implement comparatively strong conservation requirements? Based upon 43 qualitative interviews with water stakeholders in four selected cities (Atlanta, Phoenix, San Antonio, Tampa), this article puts forward one contributing factor to explain this apparent contradiction: the variable “visibility” of stressed water resources. The material conditions of different water sources (e.g., groundwater, surface water) and geologies (i.e., during droughts or during flooding) provide variable opportunities to “see” water scarcity. The visual impacts of shrinking water resources can become a major motivating factor in the general public for increased water conservation. However, water supply is often physically invisible. In these circumstances, the image of water supply may be intentionally conjured in the public mind to produce similar concern. Assured, steady supply, on the other hand, can dampen the public will for strong conservation policy.

Contributor Notes

Kate Pride Brown is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the Georgia Institute of Technology. She studies environmental activism and politics in Russia and the United States. Her forthcoming book, Saving the Sacred Sea (Oxford University Press), examines local efforts to protect Siberia’s Lake Baikal—the oldest, deepest, and largest freshwater lake in the world. Email: k.p.brown@gatech.edu.

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