Doctoral Dissertation Research: Social-Environmental Feedbacks Between the Use and Governance of Water and Soil in Dryland Irrigation Megaprojects

Project: Research project

Project Details


This Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement project will examine dryland irrigation megaprojects and related changes in the use and governance of water and irrigated land. Irrigation megaprojects in arid landscapes feature prominently in agricultural development worldwide. Planning and policy entities often focus on the economic benefits of irrigation water for farmers. However, irrigated soils are often central to ecological and social conflicts that follow the construction of irrigation districts. Such conflicts include reduced soil quality, water contamination via agricultural runoff, and displacement of regional farmers by investors' large land acquisitions. Therefore, this research will investigate the social and ecological effects of irrigation megaprojects and the related governing policies and practices of irrigation water and soils. This research will contribute to scholarly and policy considerations of social-environmental feedbacks in governance. The broader impacts of this project will (1) work toward improved irrigation infrastructure development, (2) strengthen management of irrigated land to ensure increased sustainability of soil and water resources, and (3) encourage policy that ensures more equitable access to irrigated land. During this research diverse university students will receive training in mixed methods research. This Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement award will provide support to enable a promising student to establish an independent research career.

This dissertation investigates the interactions and feedbacks between irrigation megaprojects, soil management practices, and soil and water governance. Scholarship of environmental governance related to irrigation has focused on issues of water access and control. While important, more scholarly attention must examine the centrality of soils within irrigation megaprojects. The coupling of and tensions between water and soil use and governance require detailed empirical examination that leverages key literatures within geography and the spatial sciences, particularly environmental governance, coupled human-environment systems, and feminist political ecology. Three questions guide this research: (1) How does access to water from irrigation megaprojects shape soil management practices, specifically crop selection, crop rotations, and applications of agrochemicals? (2) How do social and environmental stressors inform soil management practices? (3) How do social and environmental stressors feedback into environmental governance? This research employs a mixed methods approach including change detection analysis, environmental archival research, participant observation, a survey, farm transect walks, and semi-structured interviews with farmers, irrigation managers, and government officials. This research project will provide new insights regarding sustainable and equitable approaches to irrigation development and governance in dryland areas in Colombia and elsewhere, including the United States.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Effective start/end date3/15/1912/31/21


  • National Science Foundation: $17,998.00


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