Drought, water access, and urban agriculture: a case study from Silicon Valley

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Taylor & Francis


In California, the growing popularity of urban agriculture (UA) has unfolded against a backdrop of historic drought. While UA is often celebrated as an urban sustainability strategy, it must be able to persist during drought if it is to perform these functions. Using Santa Clara County – the geographic core of Silicon Valley – as a case study, we use interviews and surveys to explore the implications of drought for UA. We show how developing an understanding of water access for UA during a drought requires examining the social and institutional context of water management and use. In metropolitan California, the highly decentralised water supply system combined with the diverse institutional arrangements that support UA create an uneven landscape of water access. Consequently, the pressure to change water-consuming practices – that is, the stress that institutional drought responses place on different water users – is geographically and socially differentiated. Among UA water users, responses to drought have also varied, in part because the possibilities for change are constrained by the sociotechnical arrangements of UA sites and the different purposes of UA.