The Uneven Role of Water Treatment in Responding to Environmental Injustice: Government-Funded Reverse Osmosis Facilities in Rural Northern Guanajuato
AuthorKrupp, Aaron Samuel
AdvisorBauer, Carl J.
MetadataShow full item record
PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction, presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
EmbargoRelease after 01/12/2023
AbstractAcross northern Guanajuato, water sources are going dry and groundwater contains levels of arsenic and fluoride that are dangerous for long-term human consumption. In writing this thesis i have two goals: first, to contextualize environmental injustice in northern Guanajuato and second, to interrogate the government-sponsored installation of reverse osmosis (RO) facilities, designed to treat, bottle, and sell drinking water in rural communities across the region. Towards the first aim, i begin by arguing that well-collapse, arsenic and fluoride exposure, and declining surface water flows in northern Guanajuato -- all of which are driven by agricultural groundwater extraction -- ought to be considered a case of environmental injustice. I then turn towards the second aim. First, i recount attempts taken to limit groundwater extraction and address contamination, including the government-sponsored campaign to install RO water treatment facilities in rural communities. Based on interviews and document analysis, i describe how this campaign emerged from the intersection of political pressure, community organizing, funding availability, and limited technological options to treat trace levels of arsenic and fluoride to Mexican drinking water standards. Drawing from empirical evidence including interviews, site visits, and policy documents, i classify and depict variations in how RO facilities are implemented, designed, operated, and maintained across rural northern Guanajuato today. Combining political ecology literature with empirical data, i analyze these practices by considering the political economy, accessibility, gendered labor dynamics, and ecological impacts of RO facilities in rural communities. To reframe how environmental injustice is produced in northern Guanajuato, i trace logics of extractivist capitalism and patterns of social difference since the Mexica inhabitants of Tenochtitlan met early Spanish colonizers and go on to argue that although RO may be able to prevent exposure to toxic levels of arsenic and fluoride for certain populations in the short term, it may also enable the extractivist status quo while repeating a familiar approach to perceived water scarcity: augmenting supply through technification without addressing demand. Indeed, if RO is installed without efforts to reduce groundwater extractions, wells will continue to go dry. I conclude by arguing for a pluralistic approach to water justice that both depends on short-term life-protecting technologies – which could include RO – while also pursuing other initiatives including policies that limit groundwater extractions and efforts to shift the dominant narratives and logics that drive extractivist injustice.
Degree ProgramGraduate College