Illusions of Abundance: Culture and Urban Water Use in the Arid Southwest

EPA Grant Number: U915943
Title: Illusions of Abundance: Culture and Urban Water Use in the Arid Southwest
Investigators: Sokol, Marienka J.
Institution: University of Wisconsin - Madison
EPA Project Officer: Packard, Benjamin H
Project Period: January 1, 2001 through January 1, 2004
Project Amount: $75,200
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2001) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Academic Fellowships , Environmental Justice , Fellowship - Environmental


In cities of the arid Southwest, water has always been a limited and precarious resource. Although city dwellers might not think of it when they turn on a faucet or dive into the swimming pool, matters of water—getting it, regulating it, storing it, distributing it, using it—dictate one's very ability to live in the desert. The objective of this research project is to investigate the following questions:

1. How is it that residents have come to use water as they do?

2. What are the stories behind the many water-intensive landscapes (the gardens, the pools, the golf courses) that are so much a part of these urban landscapes?

3. How have cultural, economic, environmental, and other factors shaped urban water consumption in the 20th-century Southwest?


By researching the history of water use in Tucson, Phoenix, and Las Vegas, I will explore these questions in depth, while examining the ways in which culture has shaped water's role in western urban lives. Many factors—from local environmental conditions and policies to the schemes of civic boosters—have influenced city dwellers' handling of limited water supplies. Piecing together the histories of some of these cities’ most water-intensive landscapes, I hope to shed light on how this array of factors has influenced urban residents' decisions about how to use this scarce resource. An exploration of culture and water in these cities causes us to ask important questions that probe the intricacies of urban water use, and should direct our attention toward important, although often overlooked, elements that have shaped urban resource use both past and present.

Supplemental Keywords:

fellowship, water use, water conservation, water supply, Southwest, urban water consumption, urban landscapes.

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2001
  • 2002
  • Final