As of late October, nearly 60% of California faces conditions of “exceptional drought,” a category that the National Drought Mitigation Center refers to as indicating “exceptional and widespread crop/pasture losses,” with “shortages of water in reservoirs, steams and wells creating water emergencies”. Mandatory conservation measures are in effect across the state, and Governor Brown recently signed a Sustainable Groundwater Management Act that will tighten regulation of California’s notoriously under-managed groundwater supply.
I conduct my fieldwork in Borrego Springs, a small desert town in Southern California that has slowly become enmeshed in an envirotechnical regime of groundwater surveillance, drought mitigation, community engaged scientific research, and climate change adaptation. Nothing draws a crowd quite like a “wicked problem,” and I follow the network of community activists, scientists, and government agents that transform this town’s anticipated water shortage into a significant indicator of regional and global environmental challenges. Ultimately, this means that I’m following how water itself is scaled in the high stakes context of one of the worst droughts in California’s recorded history.