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Agencies of Water: Quality, Quantity, and Health

Fri, April 12, 10:30am to 12:00pm, Hyatt Regency Columbus, Union B

Session Submission Type: Panel

Abstract

Environmental historians have long recognized the role of water as agent: its ability to shape landscapes and life ways through its particular flows, or through its overwhelming absence (drought) or presence (flooding). But, how might we refine our understanding of the actual agency of water (and of water itself) in more particular ways? This session’s papers complicate the relationship between water quantities and water qualities, question the values and valuations attached to them, and investigate changing ideas of particular aspects of water over time. In so doing, they address how the multiple agencies of water can be more precisely mapped into the stories we tell, and how those stories might speak to critical debates over water.
From the rural, arid lands of the Southwest, where water quantities reign paramount, to the wetter temperate climes of the Pacific Northwest and Canada, where urban water quality produced controversy and debate, there are clear rewards to understanding the environmental histories of water and the risks posed by its agency. Panelists will address the conjoined chemical-municipal histories of city drinking water in Canada, the technological treadmill of efforts to standardize municipal water supplies in the United States, debates over technocratic control of desert groundwater in Southern California, and notions of scarcity and abundance in the desert Southwest U.S. Reducing microbial and contamination risk from water in urban settings stands in contrast to the sink of agricultural and industrial contamination so apparent in rural locales.

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