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Pajaro and Salinas Valleys, California, U.S.A.

The Project

The T2GS California team examines the sociopolitical, economic, and scientific aspects of groundwater in the Pajaro and Salinas Valleys. As part of the project’s overall goal to facilitate learning across contexts, the team engages in workshops and dialogues with other T2GS scholars. Our research considers how imaginaries of California’s agricultural wealth have been exported as a template for development and used to justify large-scale water projects internationally. Our research also connects these practices to the global architecture of coloniality/modernity, as well as projects of settler colonialism and empire building in the United States. 

California's Pajaro Valley (Credit: PVWMA) and Salinas Valley (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Additionally, the team leverages their institutional affiliation with two undergraduate colleges at the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) to develop innovative undergraduate courses in which students interview international T2GS scholars, attend field trips to talk with practitioners, and reflect on groundwater pedagogies. Former students in the courses continue to work as key collaborators and members of the California T2GS team.

Students from the UCSC Fall 2019 and Winter 2020 classes during tours of the Pajaro Valley. (Credit: Flora Lu)


The Salinas Valley has long been regarded as the world’s “salad bowl,” and the adjacent Pajaro Valley is considered one of the world’s premier fruit-growing regions. Rich soils and a range of microclimates enable the production of an immense diversity of crops, which are picked by predominantly Latinx farmworkers and feed the state, nation, and world. A unique growing region and “horticultural treasure” worth billions of dollars, this landscape likewise has a troubling history. 

Strawberry cultivation in the Pajaro Valley in February 2020. (Credit: T2GS U.S.A. Team)

Large-scale agriculture on the Central Coast of California has evolved from patterns of landholding and use from the Spanish missionaries, a brutal process that devastated Indigenous societies and relationships to place. This was followed by a swift shift to market production and white settlement, spurred by the Gold Rush in the mid-19th century (Wells 1996). These extractive colonial economies continue to influence contemporary patterns of human-environment relationships along the Central Coast, with labor exploitation forming a linchpin in upholding the region’s lucrative agricultural economy. The region’s profitability is also contingent on the historic over-extraction of groundwater, which threatens the health and wellbeing of communities in the region, who depend on groundwater for domestic uses.

During a field visit with PVWMA, students learned about the College Lake Project which proposes the use of lake water as an alternative in agricultural irrigation. (Credit: Flora Lu)

Groundwater overdraft has also caused saltwater intrusion and water quality degradation, resulting in the California state government’s recent designation of the Pajaro and Salinas Valleys as “critically overdrafted groundwater basins” (CDWR 2019). Efforts to achieve groundwater sustainability involve myriad legal and technical innovations with significant economic, ecological, and environmental justice implications.

Industrial agricultural activities dominate the floor of the Salinas Valley, consuming large amounts of the region’s groundwater supply. (Credit: Aysha Peterson)


California Department of Water Resources. (n.d.). SGMA Data Viewer. Retrieved August 10, 2020 from

Walton, B. (2015). Here Comes the Sea: The Struggle to Keep the Ocean out of California's Coastal Aquifers. Water News. Circle of Blue 9/23/2015.

Wells, M.J. (1996). Strawberry Fields: Politics, Class and Work in California Agriculture. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. 

View Team Members

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