Optimizing for Water Equity in the Colorado River Basin; The Technopolitics of Israeli Water Management

Author: ORCID icon orcid.org/0000-0002-1919-3741
Abboud, Hania, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Quinn, Julianne, EN-Eng Sys and Environment, University of Virginia
Earle, Joshua, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia

It is evident that water management is interdisciplinary; these infrastructure systems are studied by hydrologists and physical scientists, designed by civil and water resource engineers,
administered by governing authorities, improved by community stakeholders, but most
importantly, they are controlled and informed by political actors. My thesis portfolio addresses
the question of “how do technical needs and political conditions influence the design and
management of water resource systems?” I develop an understanding of water distribution
systems from a purely technical standpoint, as well as the political and social factors embedded
in water infrastructure design and management. I address my overarching research question
using two distinct case studies- a technical project of the Lower Colorado River Basin’s water
management operating politics and a sociotechnical (STS) research study on Israeli-Palestinian
hydropolitics. My technical research deepens my understanding of the technical complexities of
water management, design compromises and decision priorities, and engineering considerations
made by planners engineers. My STS research, examining how the Israel has
impacted water resource management throughout the region, provides insight on the power dynamics embedded in water infrastructure as a result of the political environment in which water resource systems are
The Colorado River Basin has been experiencing shortages of increasing severity and
frequency; with its scale and multitude of end users, this presents a dire problem. Working on a
team of undergraduates, a technical study focusing on the Lower Basin’s reservoir conditions
was conducted to explore alternative operating policies. We couple the Borg multi-objective
optimization algorithm with RiverWare model, a decision support system, to model reservoir
conditions under a series of potential climate change scenarios to produce a set of alternative
operating rules that address historic and current environmental justice issues for Native
American water users. The Colorado River Basin’s water allocations are governed by the “Law
of the River”, a body of legal documents, thus they cannot be altered, but individual reservoir
operating rules that influence user shortage frequency and severity can be optimized for future
climate change scenarios. We balance conflicting decision variables to find a robust operating
solution, one that is applicable over a wide range of future climate change scenarios.

To study the social and political aspects of water management, I research the
development and management of Israeli water infrastructure, and the subsequent injustices faced
by Palestinians as a result of the overall technopolitical system. I provide a summary of the
region’s hydrography, a brief analysis of Israeli law governing Palestinian water and its related
infrastructure, and discuss water management in Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). I use
the technological politics framework to discuss and identify the political qualities and subsequent
oppressive power dynamics of the overall system, revealing motives behind Israeli water
infrastructure design and the consequential impacts on Palestinian communities.
Together, these projects work in conjunction by deepening my grasp on water
management as a system that performs a scientific, technical task while executing certain
political agendas. They serve as an example of the interdisciplinary complexities involved in
designing efficient and equitable water management systems, dispelling narratives about the
dichotomy between science and politics, as they are interconnected.

BS (Bachelor of Science)

School of Engineering and Applied Science
Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering
Technical Advisor: Julianne Quinn
STS Advisor: Joshua Earle
Technical Team Members: Erin Baker, Teagan Baiotto, Christopher Weigand

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