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Water & Climate Publications

  • Water and Climate Justice Publications

  • Example Student Projects

  • “No Man’s Land”: Unincorporated Communities in Modesto, CA

    Student authors: Zachary Gianotti, Liz Rickley, Vanessa Shin

    Community partner: Tuolumne River Trust, Modesto Office

    Faculty advisor: Iris Stewart-Frey

    Abstract: Unincorporated communities are areas within a city’s physical boundary but outside of a city’s jurisdiction; incorporation status affects local political representation, the provision of public services, and the enforcement of environmental and other regulations. In this project, we used spatial analysis, surveys, and focus groups to investigate such disparities in the City of Modesto, Stanislaus County, California, a city containing twenty-three unincorporated islands. Specifically, we explored access to municipal water, sewer, and garbage collection, exposure to pollution, and access to and quality of local parks. The results of our spatial analysis, in conjunction with information found through the surveys and focus groups, support the idea found in previous research that unincorporated areas are disadvantaged compared to their incorporated neighbors. Unincorporated areas of Modesto have lower rates of access to water-based services, greater social vulnerability, and low access to safe and clean parks. Additional issues, such as pollution from nearby factories and unlicensed vehicle dismantlers, also present burdens to Modesto’s unincorporated communities. There are likely other disparities rooted in incorporation status, but they were not investigated due to the limited scope of this study.

  • Equity in Funding for Valley Water Restoration Projects

    Student authors: Samantha Bennett, Jeremy Gamelin, Alec Macleod

    Community partner: Santa Clara Valley Water District (Valley Water)

    Faculty advisor: Iris Stewart-Frey

    Abstract: This project seeks to analyze Valley Water’s current grant distribution system to see if restoration funding has been distributed equally. VW is seeking to better serve vulnerable populations of Santa Clara County through its 8 different types of grants for restoration projects. In order to analyze the equity of Valley Water’s grant distribution, we digitized all of the data from past restoration projects since 2010 into a spatial format, using ArcGIS. We identified priority areas in Santa Clara County based on socio-demographic variables such as population, percentage of non-white, and median household income to identify socially vulnerable areas. We also overlaid our own priority areas with two other analyses to validate the areas we recommended as vulnerable. To gather a bottom-up perspective of the grant process, we conducted interviews with 6 local non-profits involved in environmental restoration and education. Based on our spatial analysis, we found that the distribution of grants across the county was often clustered by project type. By assessing the distribution of VW grant funds, we determined that only  $3,725,652 of a total of $12,771,826 of awarded funding went to Medium-High and High-priority level communities. Additionally, we found that smaller nonprofits lack the resources for reporting and prefer mini-grants as these are easier to report on. Thus, we recommend that Valley Water focus future restoration projects on the medium and high-priority areas we have outlined in our analysis based on socio-demographic factors as well as essential habitat connectivity and streams. These areas include regions of San Jose, Santa Clara, Morgan Hill, and Gilroy. Lastly, we recommend that VW build a stronger relationship with local nonprofits in a structured system to identify current challenges and gain continuous feedback in their grant process.

  • An Ethical Analysis of Monterey County’s Contaminated Drinking Water Issue and the Importance of Performance Indicators in Point-of-Use Filtration Devices 

    Student author: Jo Gopinath 

    Community partner: Community Water Center

    Faculty advisors: David DeCosse and Iris Stewart-Frey 

    Abstract: This research was a collaboration between the Community Water Center and Santa Clara University, inspired by the need for solutions for out-of-compliance small water systems in Monterey County, CA, where high levels of contaminants, particularly nitrates, are found. The work is based on the proposed Monterey County Point-of-use (POU) / Point-of-entry (POE) Ordinance, which aims to create a system for monitoring the water quality for small water systems in immigrant farm worker communities in the unincorporated areas within the county. The project considers the technical specifications of POU systems and puts their use into the context of risk, safety, and environmental justice, such that the ethical principle of informed consent can be applied.  We found that regardless of a device’s performance, it is important to establish an external monitoring protocol that allows for more confidence in a given POU treatment device and minimizes the risk to the users in the community. In addition, the ethical principles of informed consent would include more extensive information and education about the risks and benefits associated with the quality and treatment of the water accessible to these communities.

  • The Ethics of Conservation and Water Supplies under Drought in California

    Student author: Jacqueline Rogers

    Faculty advisor: Iris Stewart-Frey 

    Abstract: Under projected climate changes, droughts are projected to intensify and occur more frequently. These droughts will further stress California’s water supply system. Even without drought, water quality and quantity are unevenly distributed in the state. This project analyzes public attitudes toward conservation and characterizes the priorities of local water districts to identify who is bearing the brunt of limited water supply during drought.

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