New York, NY— Today, the AI Now Institute released a new report exploring how governments have used recent crises to pass a wave of water “relief” policies that not only expand the footprint of technology in the water domain, but also exacerbate water commodification, environmental racism, and economic extraction.

The use of technology - including artificial intelligence, machine learning, computer vision, and other digital data systems - is rapidly expanding across the water domain. Since March 2020, governments and private entities have enacted a wave of water relief policies in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, depleting water supply, and economic crises. Many of these newly enacted policies exacerbate the harms and inequities caused by tech-driven water management, allocation, and distribution decisions.

The report's authors argue that these policies fail to address the most urgent and fundamental needs of water transitions and water futures, and these policies put a premium on extractive economic growth over water justice or equity.

“Water Justice + Technology: The COVID-19 Crisis, Computational Resource Control, and Water “Relief” Policy,” edited by AI Now’s Research Lead, Climate and Water, Theodora Dryer, Ph.D., includes 12 essays from water advocates, engineers, scholars, and activists that uncover how recent changes to water policy are transpiring in different geographies in North America and Central America. The essays included within the report are: 

  • “New Gold Rush, Same Genocide” by Amrah Salomón: The demand for lithium batteries and electric vehicles threatens to bring a new gold rush, but the same genocide to Indigenous peoples of the U.S. southwest through massive toxic lithium mining projects on sacred lands and sites of gold rush era massacres, reproducing colonial violence against Indigenous water protectors.
  • “Justice in Water Infrastructure” by Fushcia-Ann Hoover: Engineers and planners must include justice-centered water and flooding management in climate action planning.
  • “The Legacies of Jim Crow Water Infrastructure” by J.T. Roane: The Flint water crisis is presaged by municipal water infrastructures under Jim Crow segregationist policy including toxic well systems along Georgia's coastline cities.                     
  • “From Management to Justice” by Elena Sobrino:The management of water as a commodity and asset has been instrumental in producing the toxic harms of the Flint water crisis, and counter-strategies of collectivized environmental governance are urgently required to replace managerial, profit-driven logics with anti-racist, sustainable, and genuinely participatory technological interventions into water crises.
  • “De-escalating Water Crisis” by Bruno Seraphin and April Anson: As far-right and armed militia groups attempt to build membership by stoking fears of environmental stress, we must be prudent with the language we use when talking about drought, prepare ourselves to defuse escalation by white supremacists, and follow the lead of communities that are pursuing waterways based in relations of care and responsibility.
  • “An Environmental Justice Approach to Hydroelectric Damming” by Sage Gerson: Hydroelectricity is a mistaken low-carbon tech solution of catastrophic consequence; we must defend the self-determination and rights of people who are threatened by development-based displacement.
  • “No more groundwater, more aquifers!” by Andrea Ballestero: Committing to aquifers, rather than speaking of groundwater, would trouble the habit of decontextualizing subterranean water--and turning it into a mere industrial input--and would produce a conceptual and practical shift towards emplaced histories and the physically dynamic and socially transversal relations that aquifers make possible. 
  • “Socialize Flooding: Creating Collective Sacrifice Zones” by Dean Chahim: Mexico City's sinking drainage infrastructure does not prevent engineers from more equitable flooding management.
  • “Infrastructural Collapse and Disaster Preparedness in Austin, Texas” by Hi’ilei Julia Hobart: In the wake of Storm Uri in 2021, the water infrastructures in Texas collapsed due to overlapping vulnerabilities, including public water utility mismanagement, a significant unhoused community, and the COVID-19 pandemic, revealing how climate crisis requires multi-scalar approaches to resiliency.
  • “Rethinking Relief for Just Water Transition” by Matthew Henry: For the water transition to be truly just, the notion of relief must be re-imagined in line with just transition principles, which call for a broad-based shift from an extractive to regenerative economic system prioritizes redress and reparations and conceives of justice as place-based, community-led, and ongoing. 
  • “A Challenge to Green New Deal Activists” by The Center for Interdisciplinary Environmental Justice (CIEJ): We at CIEJ cringe when progressive activists make demands, such as reducing carbon emissions through expanding electric vehicles, that forward corporate and military agendas for resource extractivism through reducing climate activism to consumer choices for “green” and “sustainable” lifestyles. We developed these guidelines as a challenge to progressives to develop a better moral compass to climate policy and environmental social change that centers the impacts to Indigenous frontline communities instead of corporate and military interests.

    To access the “Water Justice + Technology: The COVID-19 Crisis and Water “Relief” Policy” report, please click


The AI Now Institute at New York University is the world’s first research institute dedicated to understanding the social implications of AI technologies. AI Now works with a broad coalition of stakeholders, including academic researchers, industry, civil society, policy makers, and affected communities, to identify and address issues raised by the rapid introduction of AI across core social domains. AI Now produces interdisciplinary research to help ensure that AI systems are accountable to the communities and contexts they are meant to serve, and that they are applied in ways that promote justice and equity. The Institute’s current research agenda focuses on four core areas: bias and inclusion, rights and liberties, labor and automation, and safety and critical infrastructure.