Experts agree that groundwater use is a key problem for the sustainability of agriculture and society, but that it is largely unregulated and poorly understood. There is clear evidence that climate change is already affecting precipitation, with dry areas such as the Western United States and Central-Northern Mexico foreseen to get dryer. Limits to the availability of surface water in arid and semi-arid areas around the world has led to the mining of aquifers and groundwater depletion for urban use and agriculture. At the same time, free trade agreements and the globalization of agricultural commodity markets have stimulated the production of high-value commodities for distant consumption, part of an new food regime. The social and ecological aspects of globalized agriculture remain unavoidably local, however, and groundwater has been particularly affected as agribusinesses seek out favorable conditions of production.
This project analyzes the use and management of groundwater for agriculture in the context of climate change and globalization. We concentrate our attention on the ways that groundwater is provisioned and organized in two regions: The Central Coast region of California and the Rio Duero watershed in northwestern Michoacán. Conflicts have emerged in recent years in both these settings as expanding agricultural production has led to increased demand for subsoil water. In Central California, a boom in grapes to make wine destined for markets across the US, Europe, and Asia has led to dramatic depletion of aquifers, conflicts among users, and efforts to establish regulatory institutions for the resource. In Michoacán, the expansion of strawberries and blackberries for export has also led to intensified groundwater use, and shifting government water management practices in the watersheds of the Lerma and Duero rivers. Despite the similarities, however, these two socio-environmental fields are quite different, and the practicalities and politics of provisioning water thus take quite different forms in each. We study the evolving use of groundwater, the emergence of conflicts over the resource, and the regulatory responses to the water crisis.