From Emergency to Fix: Point-of-Use Water Filtration Technology in Colonias Along the United States-Mexico Border
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Small-scale decentralized facilities and technologies are rapidly becoming a dominant technological fix to deliver water to underserved populations in developing nations. This project examines the case of a university partnership with government agencies seeking to roll out new POU (point-of-use) and POE (point-of-entry) devices in colonias – low-income, rural and peri-urban subdivisions commonly defined by their proximity to the US-Mexico border. This study critically evaluates the role of POU and POE devices as a substitute for community-based water governance, leading to self-managed systems. I measure whether these technologies will advance overall household water security, evaluate the program’s overall costs and benefits, and analyze the process by which the implementation of POU devices is institutionalized as a water governance strategy in El Paso colonias. The study uses data collected from household surveys with colonia residents in order to measure household water security using a novel Guttman scalogram method. The household water security assessment is compared with interviews and other data on the technology to assess whether POU and POE devices can improve residents’ current water security status. In addition, I used data from semi-structured interviews in order to analyze the process by which POU technologies have been decontextualized from emergency response uses and repurposed as a technological fix to poor water services in the colonias. Findings indicate that the technological fix for the socio-environmental problem of acceptable drinking water will likely add more financial and labor burdens on already vulnerable populations. Consequently, the rollout of these technologies shifts the costs of acceptable and secure drinking water from collective efforts to low-income individual households. I argue that the driver of this governance shift is the formation of a neoliberal discourse coalition which mobilizes and legitimizes soft-technologies as a solution to water insecurity, thus resulting in EPAs support of an epistemic community of technical and behavioral experts determined to disseminate the technologies in the US. As the state and experts roll out these technologies as cost-saving devices they exert incredible power to re-enroll people in mediating water-society relations and reproduce hierarchies of power in water management systems.
Vandewalle, Emily Lauren (2014). From Emergency to Fix: Point-of-Use Water Filtration Technology in Colonias Along the United States-Mexico Border. Master's thesis, Texas A & M University. Available electronically from