De Berkel river Encounters: Relations about biodiversity, mapping and cyanotypes

by Catalina Rey-Hernández & Laura Giraldo-Martínez 


On the 22nd of September, 2023, a citizen science event (De Berkel Home River Bioblitz) was hosted in the re-meandered area of De Berkel River next to the village of Almen, Netherlands. 

De Berkel Home River Bioblitz was realized as part of Catalina Rey-Hernández’s PhD project (Wageningen University of Research) and as part of the wider project “The Home River Bioblitz” ( 

A Home River Bioblitz is a global citizen science initiative documenting animals, plants, and fungi living in and around rivers. It is a collaboration among citizens, scientists, naturalists, river enthusiasts, and volunteers of all ages to conduct a field study of biodiversity over a short period of time to show the importance of free-flowing rivers as hosts of much of the world’s biodiversity. 

During this Bioblitz students from Wageningen University, Hogeschool van Hall Larenstein, ecologists from the Rijn en IJssel waterschap, historians, and other researchers, connected and explored the biodiversity of the Berkel River through the identification of species, participatory mapping, and creating ‘portraits of the river’. 


Biodiversity identification 

At the start of the day, we documented the biodiversity in and around the river through a digital tool called “iNaturalist”. 

iNaturalist an online social network of people sharing biodiversity information to help each other to learn about nature. This app helped us to identify plants and animals in the river to generate data for science and conservation. At the same time, by sharing our observations through this app, we were able to connect with the species of the river and to understand and sustain biodiversity through the practice of observing wild organisms and sharing information about them. 

Through a couple of hours we were able to identify 74 different species with 145 collective observations. 

Photos: Laura Giraldo y Carolina Cuevas, 2023

Graph: Species identified during De Berkel Home River Bioblitz, source:


Participatory mapping 

After collecting these observations we represented our findings through a participatory mapping activity where we spatially located the identified species and at the same time we reflected on other elements such as infrastructures, contamination, land use, human activities, agriculture, etc. And through that exercise we were able to re-construct connections and interactions between these different elements, understanding that the river is not only the water and its ecosystem but also its history and connection with other actors that are constantly interacting with it.    

This map also allowed us to share knowledge among us, co-creating a visual representation of De Berkel to understand the different river-territorial insights that each participant had about the river. The main objective was to co-create an eco-political map based on alternative visualization of spaces usually not represented by official state agencies. To do so, we gather around an initial canvas where we discuss, explain, and draw ecopolitical relations, landscape interventions, and territorial transformations. 

Photos: Laura Giraldo, 2023

Cyanotypes workshop with water from the Berkel River 

To conclude the day we did a special activity carried out by researcher Laura Giraldo based on a methodology created by the Colombian photographer Fernando Cruz in the Bogotá River Project developed by the entre—ríos network. With this method, we created portraits of the river using the same water samples. With that, we revealed images made in situ without a camera using the water of the Berkel. This workshop is a variation on the traditional way of making cyanotypes or blueprints. 

What is a cyanotype or “blueprint”? 

The cyanotyping (or blueprinting) process consists of reacting ultraviolet light to a chemical mixture. This mixture consists of ferric ammoniacal citrate and potassium ferricyanide diluted in water. The sun-printing process is produced by the incidence of the light against the negative. And the light that reaches the cyanotype through the translucent areas is what causes the photosensitive reaction showing those Prussian blue tones. 

Photos: Laura Giraldo, 2023

Finally, we closed with some discussions and reflections about the activities of the day. 

Seven women defenders of four rivers of the Magdalena-Cauca macrobasin shared their dreams and struggles in a threeday meeting in Medellín, Colombia

Aiming to amplify and support local voices around river defence, Riverhood co-organized the three-day event “Encuentro de Saberes: Mujeres, Montañas y Ríos”, which took place in Medellín from September 7 to 9, 2023.

This encounter was the launch of the project “Pensar con los ríos la Paz Ambiental: Estrategias comunitarias para la defensa de cuatro ríos de la macrocuenca Magdalena-Cauca en Colombia”, supported by the Colombo-German Institute for Peace and executed with research partners in Colombia.  You can read a short-report of the event here.

Voices of the Piatúa – a campaign to protect a free-flowing river in the Ecuadorian Amazon

Voices of the Piatúa – a campaign to protect a free-flowing river in the Ecuadorian Amazon

By Carlota Houart, September 2023

The Piatúa River is born in the Llanganates Mountains of Ecuador and runs through the Amazon rainforest. It is thought to be millions of years old and home to a vast diversity of animal and plant species, some of which have not yet been scientifically identified[1]. It is also one of the last free-flowing rivers of the Ecuadorian Amazon to have so far escaped negative human interference (e.g., from mining, pollution, or deforestation)[2]. The Piatúa’s riverbanks have been inhabited by more than twenty Kichwa communities for multiple generations, and there are ancient signs of human presence in the area found in petroglyphs carved on rocks along the course of the river. The river’s stones are, indeed, one of its most striking features: the Piatúa is known in Kichwa as Mayu waka rumi, “the river of sacred stones”, and it is believed by the local Kichwa communities to be a sacred, living being with healing powers, inherent wisdom, and its own guardian spirits[3].

The Piatúa River. Photograph by Carlota Houart

Yet, since 2014 the Piatúa has been threatened by a project from Ecuadorian energy company GENEFRAN S.A. (now called Elit Energy) to build a hydroelectric dam in the river. This project, which was originally approved by the Ministry of the Environment, Water and Ecological Transition of Ecuador, was quickly opposed by members of the Kichwa communities of Santa Clara (who have intimate cultural, historical, and spiritual relationships with the river); activists and environmental organizations; and other river lovers (such as practitioners of water sports like kayaking and rafting). Members of the communities denounced the project as having been pushed forward without their free, prior, and informed consent[4]; and complaints were raised against the environmental impact assessment conducted by the company, which was found to be very inaccurate by different scientific experts[5] and – according to local activists – actually based on data from a different river altogether[6]. The hydro dam would have significant impacts on the river, leading to the loss of an estimated 90% of its water volume and creating flood risks in adjacent rivers; seriously threatening its precious biodiversity; and putting at risk the livelihoods of the local Kichwa communities, as well as their spiritual and cultural ties with the Piatúa[7]. Furthermore, although the project is apparently part of Ecuador’s “green transition” plans, local activists claim that it is actually linked to existing plans to build a new oil extraction zone in the region (Block 28) and a new mining site in a nearby community, thereby constituting a source of financing for these extractive activities[8].

In response to the threat to the Piatúa, an activist group called Piatúa Resiste was formed in 2018, mobilized by young activists from Santa Clara and composed of Indigenous and non-Indigenous allies. Operations for the dam construction began in 2018, but they were instantly faced with peaceful resistance by the activists and members of the communities, and the case was taken to the courts. Making use of Ecuador’s constitutional chapter on Rights of Nature, the lawyers in support of the communities and of the river argued that both the rights of the Kichwa people and of the Piatúa itself were being violated.

Counter-cartography map of territorial conflicts in Santa Clara, Pastaza. Author: Darling Kaniras. Source:

The court case was permeated by political tensions and struggle, including the arrest of the judge originally responsible for denying an action of protection in favour of the communities and of the river, who was found to have taken bribes in order to push the hydro dam project forward. In connection to this event, the Provincial Court of Pastaza temporarily suspended the project, instructing the energy company to redo its environmental impact assessment and to obtain the free, prior, and informed consent of the Kichwa communities of Santa Clara. Nevertheless, political elections in early 2023 saw the mayor of the municipality who originally paved the way for the hydro dam re-elected, causing renewed concern among the activists and opposers of the dam that the project might still be pushed forward.

Their latest strategy, in a combined effort between Piatúa Resiste and PONAKICSC (the official organization of the Pueblo Originario de la Nacionalidad Kichwa del Cantón de Santa Clara) has been to organize a campaign to self-declare the Piatúa as Cultural Heritage of Ecuador. The river defenders are now preparing a camp that will take place along the banks of the Piatúa, involving several of the local communities, from October to December 2023. Riverhood Project’s PhD researcher Carlota Houart, who is studying the topic of multispecies justice in the Piatúa (and in the river Maas, in the Netherlands) will be joining the camp as part of her fieldwork.

The campaign to declare the Piatúa cultural heritage of Ecuador. Source: PONAKICSC

The self-declaration by PONAKICSC of the Piatúa as Cultural Heritage of Ecuador is seen as one of the strongest possible strategies to ensure protection of the river and effectively halt the hydro dam project.

For more information on the Piatúa river case, you are invited to watch the short documentary “Piatúa Resiste”, by Indigenous Amazonian filmmaking group TAWNA:

Fieldwork in the Piatúa River. Photograph by Jessica Grefa









From outside to within

I’m Ilaria Carbellotti, an Italian master student in Organic Agriculture at Wageningen University. I’m currently doing fieldwork for my thesis in La Mata and Sempegua, two little fishermen villages of the Ciénaga de Zapatosa, the biggest wetland of Colombia.


When I arrived in the fieldwork area of La Mata it was quite a powerful experience.

The first day we went to visit the place where some women, “las componedoras,” clean the fish just brought to the shore by the many fishermen in the village.

Sitting on the ground, with very confident gestures they held the live fish in their hands, cut off their fins, and finally removed the entrails. I still remember the smell, and the sight… all too strong for me, especially as first thing in the morning. After five minutes of staring at them and feeling like a complete outsider, I started doing the typical thing any tourist would do: taking pictures and filming that scene so far from my reality.

After a week or two of living with the community and getting used to my new reality, I went fishing with Omaida and Marisol, two extraordinary fisherwomen. It was incredible. I did everything that one normally does here for a living, such as rowing, setting the trammel net at sunset and pulling it back at dawn, and taking the caught fish out of the net. Also, once back in La Mata, I found myself sitting on the same ground as the first day, learning how to gut fish and joking with those women whose hands were 100 times faster than mine. It felt normal to be all dirty, covered in fish guts, and a little sunburned. The funny thing was that this time it was me who was recorded by some locals. I think it was the first time for them to see a foreigner doing what I was doing.

The most precious thing about this place, about these villages, is that the inhabitants live in nature and can create a deep connection with the Ciénaga and with the people themselves. In fact, all the people I talked to, even those who sometimes don’t have food, told me that ‘la vida es sabrosa’ i.e., life is tasty. This makes me think that in these fishing villages, despite the many contrasts and difficulties, there is a lot of potential in terms of quality of life. In La Mata and Sempegua I found two very united villages, where people help each other in times of need, exchange products (such as fish and plantains), and are happy to open their doors to a foreign girl who speaks very ‘funny’ Spanish and comes from such a different reality. I am happy to say that I have many new families there, and the next time I visit Colombia I will know who to come back to.

PS: I have become so accustomed to their customs that I sometimes miss their typical breakfast: fried fish (usually bocachico) with arepas or yucca, and a big glass of fresh juice.

The Twelfth National Water Forum, Quito, Ecuador

Finally, the researchers of the Riverhood and River Commons projects and the Travelling Rivers initiative participated in the Twelfth National Water Forum, co-organized with Ecuadorian partner CAMAREN. More than 1000 policy-makers, grassroots leaders and researchers met, to discuss current challenges and possible alternatives for water governance, law and management in Ecuador. During the Forum and through a creative and surprising ‘flashmob’, another massive river counter-map was created: 50 meter long, representing individual but also shared rivers, river perspectives, threats and struggles, alternative river futures, counter-hegemonic visions.

Photo by Catalina Rey

International seminar “Ríos, Territorios y Poder: cartografía política y representaciones hidrosociales alternativas”, Riobamba, Ecuador

The Travelling Rivers workshop series was further complemented by the international seminar “Ríos, Territorios y Poder: cartografía política y representaciones hidrosociales alternativas”, organized by Riverhood and River Commons in Riobamba, Ecuador (1-4 July). Around 40 participants from academia and grassroots organizations met to learn about and discuss alternative hydro-territorial representation practices, concepts and processes (such as the Travelling Rivers initiative) that can support more democratic, fair and sustainable co-governance strategies for rivers.

Photo by Jeoren Vos

Travelling Rivers Initiative in Colombia and Ecuador

From April to June this year, fisher and peasant communities, social movements and activists-artists María Benítez and Vanessa Roa, and researchers from the Riverhood and River Commons projects, engaged in local counter-mapping workshops in four rivers: the Magdalena (case study of PhD researcher Juliana Sandoval), La Miel (Ana Maria Arbelaez), Bogotá (Laura Giraldo), Sumapaz (Sebastían Reyes) and the Guargalla y Alao rivers (Masters researchers Sebastián Silva, Susana Zavala, Meike Klarenbeek). The aim of these collective counter geographies and the Travelling Rivers initiative (coord. Bibiana Duarte, Rutgerd Boelens) was to illustrate and mobilize the knowledges, imaginaries and conflicts around these rivers that are generally hidden, but that are perceived and experienced every day by the communities that inhabit and depend on the mentioned rivers. Through bringing the mapping workshops and the maps themselves from one context to the other, the different experiences and struggles were woven together; connecting stories, concerns, debates and movements. Making rivers travel and promoting transnational solidarity.

To watch the teaser of these actions, click here.

Land of many faces

My name is Pieter van Dalen, and after three weeks in Medellín learning Spanish, I am spending the next few months in Bogotá. This city is known for its altitude (2640 meters), ‘cold climate,’ reserved Colombians, rich diversity of food, music, culture, and unfortunately, traffic problems. Tourists often pass through briefly, and most Colombians swear by Medellín, Cali, and the Caribbean coast. However, I feel at home in Bogotá and believe that the city has a lot to offer, especially if one looks beyond the traffic, climate, and initial impressions.

I have since traveled beyond Bogotá and seen more of Colombia. What strikes me is the incredible diversity and the different faces of this country. This is also the common thread in my first blog. Before I departed for Colombia, it was difficult for me to imagine what it would be like. Yet, you hear stories, research, and are informed by people around you. The perspective before and now provides an interesting view of how I understand Colombia.

NatureTake, for example, the landscape: Colombia has beaches, but also glaciers; rainforests, but also mountains with a unique Páramo ecosystem; urbanized cities, but also vast rural areas. So many different landscapes in one country, which is remarkable and gives this land a lot of character. I have been to the coast so far, where I celebrated Carnival. I lived in Medellín, with its always perfect climate, surrounded by a mountainous landscape and a city intertwined with nature. Additionally, I have seen mountains around Bogotá, but most of my time has been spent in Bogotá itself.

Photo by Pieter van Dalen


Colombia is a country with a long history tied to conflict, violence, and unrest. On the other hand, Colombians are incredibly friendly, kind, cheerful, and bring a warm energy with them. Something that some Dutch people might learn from. This friendliness also goes hand in hand with being attentive to each other, sharing what you have, and protecting each other from danger. Phrases like ‘Todo o nada’ or ‘Todo en la cama o en el suelo’ are sayings I have heard frequently. It basically means sharing everything, everyone gets the same, and we don’t leave anyone behind. At the same time, there are also bad people, and this has often been impressed upon me. It was a huge shock to realize that not only I am at risk in some places, but also the Colombians themselves. I have been warned enough times in different cities about the ‘danger’ that looms if you are in the wrong place and encounter the wrong person.

Photo by Pieter van Dalen


Living in a country where both nice and not-so-nice people reside is still sometimes difficult to grasp. It seems that this dichotomy has its roots in the intense period of conflict but also the enormous class inequality and economic system here. It’s not easy in Colombia to move up the social ladder, and the social hierarchy reinforces that significantly. Here in Bogotá, for example, you can easily live in a completely different world if you have money. You never take the bus, you don’t go beyond a certain street to the south, you go to a private school with a private driver, and you hang out with people from the same bubble. I am fortunate and privileged to be able to live in a good neighborhood and see how wealthy Colombians live. Additionally, I go further south, take the bus, and interact with Colombians who haven’t had it as good. The same applies to the city’s structure. One moment you’re walking in a good, bustling, friendly neighborhood. The next moment, you feel unsafe, the streets are in poor condition, houses are shabby, and there’s garbage on the streets. This is something that continues to amaze me as I walk around in major Colombian cities.

Photo by Pieter van Dalen

The small broccoli revolution

Hi, I am Meike! Normally, I am studying as a MSc student of Wageningen University in Wageningen, but currently, I live and work in Ecuador to execute fieldwork for my thesis investigation. A very special opportunity, as it provides me a chance to learn more about this beautiful country and her people, but also about its enormous injustices in terms of water distribution, and the way in which this affects nearly every aspect of people’s life. For this reason, I would like to take you along in one of the meetings I had with indigenous and rural communities from throughout the Nagsiche river basin (my study site). A meeting that, for me, served as an eye-opener in terms of understanding the everyday impacts of power imbalances in the Ecuadorian waterscape.

When we arrive to the meeting, in which we intend to discuss the change in rainfall patterns that community members believe to result from the use of chemicals sprayed out over the area by provincial airplanes, it immediately becomes clear that many people have gathered for this discussion. While normally, cars only pass through the river basin sporadically, currently, the street in front of the municipal building is packed with pick-up trucks that seem to have come from all directions. Around all these cars is a crowd that is filled with farmers, presidents of irrigation systems, and indigenous leaders. Once we moved inside, the people barely fit into the meeting room. Soon, all the chairs in the large room are filled, and when the benches on the side are occupied as well, still many people have not found a seat. As the meeting initiates a perfect 45 minutes late, first some other topics have to be discussed. However, when we reach the topic of the “bombarding of the clouds”, I can hear from the noise that comes from the crowd that this is what they have all gathered for. No surprise, if you perceive this from their belief that the agribusinesses in the area charter provincial airplanes to prevent the rain from falling in large parts of the river basin, while so many small farmers in the area suffer from severe water shortages and large inequities in their access to water.

Photo by Meike Klarenbeek

To calm down the tensions surrounding this topic, the provincial government initiated an investigation into the matter, of which the results are presented today. These results leave little to discuss: no known technique exists to stop rain from falling, no materials are found that would suggest that the agribusinesses in the area do have access to such a technique, and no permits have been granted by the airport to execute flights with any other objective than training pilots. Directly after the technician from the provincial water authority reaches the last words of this summation, one thing becomes very clear to me: this meeting is not about bombarding the clouds. Nor is it about technical (im)possibilities. This meeting is about so much more. This meeting, at least for those present here today, is about injustice, about hunger, about poverty. This meeting is about pent-up frustrations of not being seen, heard or helped. And, as we also know in the Netherlands: there is no scientific proof that is strong enough to deny any of these feelings.

As such, three hours of emotional speeches by indigenous leaders, small-scale family farmers, community leaders, and irrigation presidents follow. “While the broccoli-producing companies continue to grow, we suffer evermore. There is no water to support or production. There is not even money to send our kids to school.” “Our small producers die from starvation, while the broccoli companies continue business as usual.” As there are over 300 small agricultural producers in the room, and only one representative of the agribusinesses, the sentiments quickly turn into feelings of anger and despair. Within seconds, the discussion suddenly seems to turn into a small revolution. “The authorities promised to be here today, but where are they now? We are left on our own once again!” “There remains only one option for us: vamos a tomar las brocoleras! Let’s take over the broccoli companies!”

Photo by Meike Klarenbeek

Sara’s fieldwork in Sempegua, Colombia

I am Sara, a Master’s student in Biology and International Land & Water Management at WUR. I am currently writing my master’s thesis in Cienaga de Zapatosa, Colombia. Here, I am studying the impacts of the rhythms of the Cienaga and degradation processes on the village communities of Sempegua and La Mata. Sedimentation is a process that I will study in more detail using satellite imagery.

I am writing this blog from the fisherman’s village of Sempegua, located on a peninsula in Cienaga de Zapatosa, Colombia. As I write, cows, pigs, and chickens walk by. I have been here for a week now and I still can not get used to the slow pace of life. Many children and adults have the afternoon off and are chilling in the streets, while I transcribe an interview I did that morning with a member of the community council. I am here in Sempegua to study the impact of the Cienaga (marsh) on the community, but at the same time, the community has an impact on me.

I live in a house of locals, which is a completely different world from the Netherlands; the doors are made of curtains, and we shower with buckets of water. We wake up at 6 a.m., and shortly after we have a delicious big meal; bocachico (fish) with yucca is my favorite. Then it’s time to do interviews. Today I interviewed a fisherman who is very passionate about his Cienaga. He is part of several community organizations to create more unity in the village.

Since it gets very hot very quickly during the day, physical activity in the afternoon is limited. Lunch here is also much bigger than in the Netherlands. No boring sandwiches, but a huge hot meal. The children always have the afternoon off, so it gets noisy in the village again. There are no afternoon activities planned for them, so they mainly play in the street. It is interesting to see how differently the children are connected to the Cienaga compared to the older people. The elderly used to drink from the Cienaga, play in the Cienaga, and wash their clothes in the water. Now, the water is not clean enough for neither drinking nor washing. And rays restrict swimming in the Cienaga to the deep places that can only be reached by boat.

Franciska’s fieldwork in Zambia

Hello there! This is Franciska Sprong writing here. I am a master student from the program Aquaculture and Marine Resource Management at Wageningen University, the Netherlands. Currently I am in Mongu, Zambia, to conduct fieldwork for my master thesis. This thesis is attached to Agness Musutu’s PhD, which is part of the River Commons project. I am investigating the fishermen’s perception of the spatio-temporal distribution of fish in the Barotse Floodplain.

Beginning of April I arrived in Zambia, just after the rainy season. The Barotse Floodplain was still covered in water, although the grass had overgrown most of the water. By now, the water is receding quickly, which leads to changes in habitats (Figure 1).

Today I am going to conduct a participatory mapping and hopefully, if time permits, some interviews as well. We will drive to Senanga, 100km south of Mongu where I am staying. My colleagues from WWF will fetch me, and then we go. They should have been here an hour ago, but that’s how things run here… flexibility is an asset. Oh, there is a car coming, yes, I think there they are. “Hello, good morning, musuhile cwani?” And off we go for a two-hour drive to this focus group of WWF.

We are received at a primary school just north of Senanga, and the people of the focus group were already waiting for us. I introduce myself in Silozi, and explained what we were going to do today. Fortunately, we also have a translator with us, because much more than introductions and greetings, I don’t know this Bantu language. It is amazing how people appreciate and enjoy when you as a white European, try to speak some words in their language. It is really a good start for a conversation, a mapping exercise, or an interview.

I ask them to draw a map of the area, with the river, the floodplain, and so on, during muunda (flood, February to April), and another map during mbumbi (low water, August to October). Subsequently, they can put the fish species they know in Silozi, in the right place in the map. The map helps me to understand their perception of the movement of the fish in the plain, and it gives a clear overall picture of everything going on during the different seasons. It is very nice to see them engaging in discussions about which species belong where, and which ones are the first to move out of the river into the plain when the water level starts rising. Afterwards, I thank them for their cooperation, we take a small break with drinks and snacks, and then I ask the fishers in this focus group (consisting of fishers and fish traders) whether I can interview them. That is fine with them, good! Four more interviews to go, on this very productive day.

After those interviews, it was time to go home, and on the way back, we stopped to buy and try some cassava from a lady selling it on the roadside. Wow, I feel so blessed that I have the opportunity to be in this country and culture as part of my study program. It enriched me so much and I have learned a lot on cross-cultural, academic, and personal levels.

Figure 1: Receeding water in the Barotse Floodplain. Photos taken on 31 May (top left), 14 June (top right), 27 June (bottom left) and 11 July 2023 (bottom right).


Participatory mapping with a focus group of WWF Zambia.


Focus group participating in mapping exercise.


Conducting an interview with a fisherman and the help of a translator.


A fisherman in action on the bank of the Zambezi river in Zambia.


Participatory map of the low water situation during “mbumbi” (August-October – on the left / February-April – on the right).

Travelling Rivers Initiative – counter mapping four Colombian rivers

The Travelling Rivers initiative, part of the Riverhood and River Commons projects, promotes transnational solidarity collaboration and transdisciplinary learning between different riverine cultures. Since April 2023, four Colombian rivers are traveling through María Benitez and mobile maps. María is a fisherwoman from the Magdalena River, a social leader, and an artist. Through the knowledge of grassroots Colombian organizations and river walks, María has been mapping forgotten problems and marginalized local struggles to enliven rivers. The stories and life experiences of the La Miel, Sumapaz, Bogotá, and Magdalena rivers were represented in the participatory counter-maps co-created and intertwined through María. She has mobilized not only the collective mapping but also video messages of the riverine communities, in which they share their efforts to enliven their rivers.

The first Travelling Rivers event took place in April, in Bolivia, a small town in the province of Caldas. During the cartography workshop, community members and members of the Environmental Peasant Movement (MACO in Spanish) reflected on the importance of water and the La Miel River for peasant communities and mapped the territorial transformations that occurred after the construction of the hydroelectric project ‘El Eden’ along the river, in 2017. The same month, members of the La Merced community aqueduct, located at the headwaters of the Bogotá River, highlighted the latest changes in the landscape with regard to the restoration of the paramo and its conservation. In May, the fishermen communities and riverine population of the Magdalena River (south of Bolívar) illustrated the various causes of the disconnections between the wetland systems and the main river. At the end of May, peasant organizations from Sumapaz presented their social struggles and resistance actions to defend their territory against the hydroelectric project, oil exploitation and strict conservationist measures.

The stories and life experiences of the La Miel, Sumapaz, Bogotá, and Magdalena rivers were represented in the participatory counter-maps co-created and intertwined through María. She has mobilized not only the collective mapping, but also video messages of the riverine communities, in which they share their efforts to enliven their rivers.

The Travelling Rivers has been supported and coordinated by Ana María Arbelaez, Laura Giraldo, Juliana Forigua, and Sebastian Reyes (Riverhood and River Commons PhD researchers), Leontien Cremmers, and the coordination team of Riverhood and River Commons projects.

To find out more about this initiative, check out here the photo report illustrating the experiences in these four rivers.

Piquete de río en el Salto de Tequendama convoca a activistas y cuidadores del agua para honrar las memorias y el futuro del río Bogotá

PhD researcher Laura Giraldo-Martínez, who is investigating the materialization of diverse socio-ecological memories in river infrastructures in the headwaters of the Bogotá River through an action research approach, has been engaged in a fruitful collaboration with the entre-ríos collective. During the past months, Laura and the collective have carried out a series of river walks along the Bogotá River, and, more recently, have realized an event.

Inspired by the efforts of various care actions, last April 26, the researcher and the collective met at Tequendama Falls to exchange restorations and reparation experiences. This event marked a significant point in a long-term project which aims to co-create a digital platform using film, podcasts, and publications to tell the stories of inspirational community leaders living and working on the Bogotá River. Click here to know more about what happened that day (in Spanish).

Photo by Gabriela Molano

Día mundial del Agua: de la ONU a nuestra mesa

By Ana María Arbeláez Trujillo for  La Silla Llena. Ana is a PhD researcher in the Riverhood project, Wageningen University.

— Somos agua

Si hay algo que nos conecta como humanidad es nuestra dependencia del agua: todos los días sentimos sed, lavamos y cocinamos alimentos, bañamos nuestros cuerpos, cepillamos nuestros dientes y evacuamos nuestros desechos. A pesar de esta necesidad común, existen grandes brechas sociales en los medios para satisfacerla.

Globalmente, hay al menos 2.000 millones de personas que utilizan agua con heces, siendo el consumo de este tipo de agua la causa de al menos 485.000 muertes al año por diarrea, según cifras de la Organización Mundial para la Salud.

En Colombia, 3,8 millones de personas utilizan agua que no es apta para consumo humano, según el Informe del Sistema de Vigilancia de la Calidad del Agua. Esto representa un 11,8% respecto a la población participante en el estudio, el cual no incluyó datos de 18,2 millones de personas ¿De esta población cuánta no tendrá acceso a agua potable? Además del alto porcentaje que revela el estudio, la falta de información resulta preocupante.

Cifras como las anteriores son ejemplos que ponen en evidencia que, frente a la necesidad común de acceso al agua hay una gran diversidad de realidades y disputas internacionales y locales. Intereses privados se apropian del agua que abastece comunidades rurales, se prioriza el uso del agua para uso comercial (aunque la ley diga lo contrario) y se destruyen los ecosistemas que hacen posible la reproducción y el mantenimiento del ciclo hídrico.

Frente a este panorama es clave abrir espacios de diálogo social, tanto a nivel internacional como local, para crear conciencia sobre las principales amenazas que acechan este bien común y pensar en alternativas para afrontarlas.

Click here to read the whole article.

Ilustración: Cristian Olmos Herrera


Día mundial de acción por los ríos: ¿Qué estamos haciendo en Colombia?

By Ana María Arbeláez Trujillo, co-authored by Juliana Forigua-Sandoval and Laura Giraldo-Martínez  for  La Silla Llena. Ana is a PhD researcher in the Riverhood, and Juliana and Laura are PhD researchers in the River Commons project, both at Wageningen University.

El 14 de marzo se conmemora el día internacional de acción por los ríos. El propósito de esta fecha es promover y visibilizar el cuidado y la protección de la principal fuente de agua dulce del planeta e invitar a la ciudadanía a que se sume a los esfuerzos colectivos para defender los ríos.

En Colombia, los ríos están bajo diversas presiones que incluyen intereses de industrias extractivas, hidroeléctricas, contaminación, agroindustria y expansión urbana, las cuales deben entenderse en contextos particulares y teniendo en cuenta las disputas entre distintos actores por controlar el territorio y sus fuentes hídricas.

Al considerar estos retos, en este día de conmemoración de acción por los ríos, queremos resaltar iniciativas y acciones de diferentes organizaciones, comunidades, familias y habitantes de territorios ribereños.

Los esfuerzos colectivos para rescatar, cuidar y defender los ríos brotan en el día a día y conectan diversas experiencias y formas de habitarlos para hacer frente a una visión netamente capitalista y antropocentrista.

Click here to read the whole article.

Photo: Fishermen in Ciénaga El Llanito, Barrancabermeja. Laura Giraldo-Martínez.

Revitalizar el río Bogotá: redes y alianzas para su cuidado

By Laura Giraldo-Martínez for the newspaper EL ESPECTADOR. PhD researcher, River Commons project, Wageningen University, Universidad Nacional de Colombia and Asociación Ambiente & Sociedad.

El sistema de ríos y de humedales de la región de Bogotá constituye el núcleo ecológico de la geografía, la historia y la memoria de la ciudad de Bogotá y del departamento de Cundinamarca. El río Bogotá, con 375 km longitudinales, atraviesa el departamento de Cundinamarca de norte a sur, y desemboca finalmente en el río Magdalena, principal arteria fluvial del país.  La región de su nacimiento se encuentra entre 3.250 y 3.400 m.s.n.m., en el páramo de Guacheneque, en un ecosistema de alta montaña ubicado en el municipio de Villapinzón. Doce kilómetros aguas abajo, el río comienza a recibir residuos de curtiembres y canteras, plaguicidas y fertilizantes, así como descargas de las industrias, comercios y viviendas de la Sabana, convirtiéndolo en uno de los ríos más contaminados del mundo. Pese haber sido declarado muerto durante décadas, las personas, comunidades y las alianzas público-privadas, desde su cabecera en las tierras altas pasando por el bosque de niebla del Salto del Tequendama hasta su desembocadura, están proponiendo acciones para su cuidado y recuperación.

En alianza entre la Universidad de Wageningen, en Países Bajos, la Asociación Ambiente & Sociedad y la Universidad Nacional de Colombia, sede Bogotá, se está desarrollando un proyecto de investigación doctoral en la cabecera del río Bogotá, centrado en las formas de gobernanza y las acciones y proyectos que están posibilitando la recuperación de esta red fluvial y en las relaciones comunitarias y alianzas público-privadas que están haciendo posible su restauración, rehabilitación y conservación.

Click here to read the whole article.

Nacimiento del río Bogotá, páramo de Guacheneque. Foto: Laura Giraldo-Martínez


Contributing to water governance debates of the UN Water Conference (and beyond)

The recent UN Water Conference sparked an international momentum for debating water governance. Though not physically present, different researchers of the Riverhood and River Commons projects engaged in preparatory activities and discussions in order to place water justice high on the agenda. Early this year, during the biannual congress of the Spanish New Water Culture Foundation, UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights to Water and Sanitation Dr. Pedro Arrojo-Agudo, coordinated with researchers Prof. Rutgerd Boelens, Dr. Bibiana Duarte and Dr. Jerry van den Berge to prepare for the UN Water Conference in New York. His objective was to position water as a human right while integrating this with a new perspective on rivers as socio-ecological entities – a key conceptualization of our projects (more information here). Besides, Riverhood and River Commons contributed to and co-signed the “Declaration of Commitments”(by the organizing members of the UN of Rivers, Deltas and Estuaries) and the “Transformative Water Pact” (initiated by environmental justice organization Both ENDS and water knowledge institute IHE-Delft). We hope that these important initiatives contribute to raising attention for water justice and the need to drastically rethink river relations and practices!


We met the Magdalena River

After preparing and reading for over a year, I finally was able to touch the grand Magdalena river of Colombia for the first time together with Juliana. We visited the fisher town of Honda for the annual upstream move of thousands of fish (la subienda de peces) between January and March. In the middle-stream, the Magdalena is also called Yuma. The town and river banks were packed with fishermen, fisherwomen, fish, birds, sellers and buyers. The fish move upstream after a growing period in the Ciénegas of the Bajo Magdalena. The open connection between the Ciénegas and the main Magdalena river is therefore important to sustain a variety of livelihoods. We see fishermen catching fish and fisherwomen cleaning fish. According to fisherwomen Cecilia, the tastiest fish is the Nicuro, but the most famous one is the Bocachico. Not everyone can just come and fish, there are specific places on the riverbank where families come for years and are historically claimed as their fish spots. The fisher organization has been putting in requests to the town mayor for better night lights so they can also fish comfortably at the night, but until now this request is not met. A great first encounter with a magnificent river!

By Lotte de Jong and Juliana Forigua

Reviving the Bogotá River (Colombia)

The Bogotá river isn’t dead. Despite decades of being declared a liquid corpse, communities from its highland sources to the dramatic Tequendama Falls are taking action to care for this polluted body of water.

For centuries, the river has been the life source and energy for inhabitants of Bogota’s flat savannah. The Indigenous Muiscas worked with water to create navigation channels and raised bed agriculture. Modern irrigation systems siphon the flow to farmers for their crops. And the nation’s first hydropower plant tapped the river to generate electricity that lit up Colombia’s growing capital city at the start of modernity.

Everyone is connected to the river. But media images that focus only on lethal contamination and water treatment infrastructure risk disconnecting Bogotá’s inhabitants from their river, turning it into a lost cause. We want to shift the narrative and tell different stories about this river, focusing on the people that care for it.

In a collaboration between the entre—ríos collective and the River Commons project of Wageningen University, we followed the Bogotá River from its source in the Guacheneque highlands to the cloud forest of the Tequendama Falls region in Cundinamarca.

By walking the river and listening closely to communities over the course of a week, we connected with grassroots water management and wetland restoration groups, environmental education, and art projects. In the confluences of different practices of care, this polluted river comes back to life.

We encountered a river network woven through water and land, in the biodiversity that grows in this amphibious ecosystem, and in the community relationships that make possible its restoration, rehabilitation, and conservation.

by Lisa Blackmore, entre—ríos, University of Essex; Laura Giraldo-Martínez, PhD researcher River Commons project Wageningen University; Diego Piñeros García, visual artist; Juliana Steiner, curator.


To be born in a highland páramo ecosystem is to be born as a network of plants, mosses and lichen. It is to become a river, a riverbed and an encounter. The Bogotá River is born in the Guacheneque páramo, in Villapinzón municipality. From there, its water is born and reborn as it flows through the basin towards the Magdalena River, 380 kilometers downstream. Photo: Laura Giraldo-Martínez.

Flowing from its headwater, the river finds its course via the Cascada La Nutria inside the Forest Reserve. As it tumbles into the pool below, the fall revitalizes the still-pristine water, caring for the páramos’ role as a “water factory” which nourishes millions of people, animals and plants along its course. Photo: Laura Giraldo-Martínez.


The river is also food, radishes, artichokes, mustard, parsley, native potato, physalis, and chili. The water from the Bogotá River and the high mountain rains irrigate the Su Mercado Campesino vegetable patch. The careful work of tending to this garden weaves webs of relations where the river nourishes its basin by putting organic food on dining tables. Photo: Lisa Blackmore.

We drank water from the river, clear and fresh. We became the river and the river became us. For the vast majority of Bogotá’s citizens, this would seem an impossible feat —perhaps even an act of recklessness. But this was only kilometer 8.5 of the river, and there its water is still pure, clean and icy cold. Photo: Lisa Blackmore.

Downstream, a few kilometers from its source, the river reaches the municipality of Suesca under the care of Manos a la Cuenca, a collective where water is at the heart of restoration work. Caring for the river also means restoring riparian forest and creeks, working with local aqueducts and schools, in partnership with universities, community tourism, and NGOs. Photo: Laura Giraldo-Martínez.

For Manos a la Cuenca walking through the territory is essential for learning from the river and with it. In these highly transformed mountains, there are not many native forests left. Reviving the river also means recovering the memory of the plants that have lived here. Monitoring growth and connectivity between plant corridors is forging a new future for the river. Photo: Diego Piñeros García.

The Bogotá river is steeped in memories that are re-emerging in the wetland landscape of its path through the city. Zanjas y Camellones is a collaborative project that is recreating the ecosystem of raised bed, ditches, and canals used by the Indigenous Muiscas. This system was based on symbiotic relationships between food planting, fishing and hunting , that endured for more than 3,000 years until the arrival of the Spanish colonial infrastructure. Photo: Laura Giraldo-Martínez.

Every tree matters in this collaborative network. The seedlings grow in the plant nurseries for ecological restoration, to later be planted in the riparian forest of the river and its streams. Mano de oso, encenillos, robles, arbolocos — all these species contribute to recovering the soil quality and the connectivity of the micro-basins around the Bogotá river. Photo: Laura Giraldo-Martínez.

The Escuela de Pensamiento Ambiental y de Paz at the El Charquito wetland is neighbor to one of the most polluted sections of the Bogotá River. This collective of environmental educators and community gardeners protect and contribute to wetland conservation through workshops and caring for the ‘mother’ orchards that provide seeds for the community’s food security. Photo: Diego Piñeros García.

High in the cloud forest above the iconic Tequendama Falls, this tree is part of the quarantine forest of the Granja Ecológica El Porvenir, planted to honor victims of the Covid-19 pandemic. Life is fragile and caring for the forest is a job that has taken place over three decades. Although it looks like an island in the middle of the fog, the tree is not alone. While it may not seem so sometimes, we are all part of the same forest, the same river, and the same water network between rivers. Photo: Lisa Blackmore.


Country and location of the photo story: Bogotá River, Cundinamarca Department, Colombia.

12th Iberian Water Management and Planning Congress in Murcia, Spain

From 26 to 28 January 2023, Rutgerd Boelens, Jerry van de Berge, and Bibiana Duarte-Abadia attended the 12th Iberian Water Management and Planning Congress in Murcia, Spain, led by the New Water Culture Foundation (FNCA, Fundación Nueva Cultura del Agua). It aimed to gather debates around transitional water and coastal management; water conflicts; co-governance models to defend the common good; and actions to accomplish water justice and energy transition through ecological restorations. Rutgerd Boelens presented the conceptual framework of the Riverhood & River Commons projects. Jerry van de Berge, shared the experiences of the European movement Right2Water, and Bibiana Duarte launched her latest book: “Ríos, Utopias y Movimientos Sociales. Reviviendo flujos de vida en Colombia y España” (2022). The three together with Dr. Pedro Arrojo-Agudo -, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights to Water and Sanitation, discussed and drafted a statement to present to the UN World Summit on Water, March 2023, in New York.

During this conference, the participants discussed cases in which the degeneration of coastal ecosystems, such as lagoons and bays, is the consequence of the mismanagement of neighboring ecosystems, like mountain ranges, rivers, and inter-basin water transfers. One of these cases corresponds to the coastal lagoon of Mar Negro, its water is totally polluted by the agricultural activities in Cartagena bay and the expansion of the mass tourism sector around this lagoon. The experts of this case stated: “The phytoplankton took over the metabolism of the lagoon” (Ángel Borja Yerro, January, 26,2023), “Mar Menor depends on the upstream zone that was not protected: the area of Cartagena.  This reflects a bad administration of the ecosystem as a whole….It is a major  grieving” (Miguel Ángel Esteve, January, 26,2023).

Mar Menor

In the second case, Portman Bay has been clogged by mining waste for 30 years (1957-1990). This happened after small miners sold their property titles to an army general of the Franco times. After, he sold the accumulated mining permits to a French multinational (Empresa Peñarroya), which started to dump the industrial waste into the freshwater streams that ended in Portman Bay.  Despite the legal prohibition to dump the residuals in the bay due to their high toxicity, Peñarroya bribed the public institutions to change the decision. Nowadays, Portman Bay is an enclosed and toxic ecosystem due to mining pollution, and its port is closed off from the sea. Its soil is covered by multiple layers of external soil to hide the underground pollution.  Likewise, the fishing communities disappeared, they only keep the memories of a rich fishing port and the hope to recover one day their coast.

1. Mining areas in the mountains uphill of Portman Bay (left). 2. Inhabitants and old fishermen of Portman (right).

Update Master Student Exchange Program River Commons

The group of master students meets at Casa Migrante in Amsterdam, a non-profit organization that supports Spanish-speaking immigrants who live in and around Amsterdam. They already all seem so comfortable as it is not their first time here. The students have become acquainted with some aspects of the South American countries that they will go to for their Master’s thesis or internship. In the encounter space for intercultural exchange between Latin-American immigrants, the students have a last meeting to conclude before they will depart. They are the first group of master students that participates in the River Commons Master Student Exchange Program. After several preparatory meetings during one semester, they are now ready to depart to their different study sites in South America. All with their own focus of study on the main topic of rivers, river co-governance, and water justice movements.

As part of their preparatory activities they not only held discussions about development, positionality, and environmental justice, but they also had a first introduction to Casa Migrante and Parroquia San Nicolas as a dynamic interchange between cultures and knowledge. Collaborating organizations shared real-life examples through presentations and lively discussions on topics such as intercultural communication, community engagement, and critical self-reflection. More than once the question arose: “what will be your role, position, and also, your contribution?” and following “how will this be part of your research”?.

Soon, the students will arrive at their study sites, in Ecuador and Colombia, where they will all conduct their field research. Some focus on more social sciences aspects, others on natural sciences. Still, all of them include cross-cultural exchange, connection, and reflection. For at least 3 months, they will engage with local communities, NGOs, and other stakeholders to jointly study innovative river-commoning approaches and methodologies. From a participatory action research approach, students will support and collaborate in riverine grassroots initiatives aimed to protect and restore rivers.

In a couple of months from now, upon their return, the students will communicate their learned lessons and intercultural insights to audiences in their home community, for example through experience-discussion meetings on social equality, sustainable water governance, and environmental justice. This intercultural connection is important to all partners: The INREF-collaborating WUR chair groups and study programs, CEDLA/UvA, Week Nederlandse Missionaris, Casa Migrante, Parroquia San Nicolás Amsterdam, and different NGOs around the world. They jointly stress the programs’ focus on issues of North-South solidarities, common good, ethics, human and nature’s rights, social inequalities and discrimination, and the diversity of cultural values, cosmovisions, and spiritual dimensions.

In 2023, the Masters’ exchange program will focus on consolidating the exchange programs’ setup and methodology taking into account the lessons learned from the first cohort. Specifically, the following activities will take place:

  1. Implementation and consolidation of the program with partner institutes, based on the lessons learned from 2022.
  2. Supervision of students who are now in the field.
  3. Establishment of new exchange opportunities with other NGOs and local actors
  4. Identification and arrangement of the counter-exchange-visit of 8 Colombian students to the Netherlands.

Meanwhile, the students who have arrived in Colombia and Ecuador recently, engage with their host organization partners and exchange with youngsters back home: inspiring stories about intercultural.

United Nations, Riverhood, River Commons: Human Rights to Water and Socio-ecological Rivers

On January 26 and 27, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights to Water and Sanitation, Dr. Pedro Arrojo-Agudo, coordinated with Riverhood/River Commons researchers Rutgerd Boelens, Bibiana Duarte and Jerry van den Berge to prepare for the UN World Summit on Water, March 2023, in New York. His objective was to conceive and found water as a human right worldwide while integrating this with a new perspective on rivers as socio-ecological entities – as conceptualized by the Riverhood/River Commons notions. The meeting took place in Murcia, Spain, at the occasion of the international New Water Culture Foundation Congress, “Looking at the rivers from the sea. New debates for a transition towards water justice”. New Water Culture is also a large social movement, co-founded by Arrojo-Agudo years before he was appointed by the Human Rights Council. Based on the experiences of the Riverhood project and those of the European movement Right2Water (coord. Van den Berge), the representatives agreed on the urgent need for a change towards a new water culture that integrates the fundamental rights of human and ecological (non-human) communities.

Pedro Arrojo-Agudo, awarded the world renown Goldman Environmental Prize and former member of the Spanish Parliament, welcomed the innovative conceptual windows opened by the two projects, with rivers understood as hydrosocial networks that integrate ecological, moral, political and technological livelihood perspectives. These add to his perspective of human rights and ecological care, grounded in his trajectory as co-founder of the European Public Water Network. Arrojo-Agudo: “There is a direct relationship between the 2 billion marginalized people who lack safe and secure water, and the state of our rivers, polluted, depleted or monopolized by anti-democratic forms of government.” The UN high-level representative and Riverhood researchers concluded on the need to reframe approaches to water governance at all temporal, institutional and geographic scales. Water is not a commodity and rivers should not be depleted, domesticated or privatized. Water and river governance approaches need a profoundly transdisciplinary, transcultural re-orientation, where myriad “commoning” and “public-commons” co-governance initiatives can inspire new ways of understanding and living together with rivers: as socionatural communities. The UN Special Rapporteur: “Achieving better river governance without recognizing the critical role of societal movements in reclaiming environmental justice is impossible.”

Photo: Dr. Bibiana Duarte, Dr. Pedro Arrojo-Agudo, Prof. Rutgerd Boelens and Dr. Jerry van den Berge

Knowledge that does not undermine anyone

In this interview for NWO, the Dutch Research Council, Rutgerd Boelens talks about how the Riverhood and River Commons projects address social and environmental challenges, specifically focusing on water management, and their interconnection with issues of knowledge and power.

“‘Around the globe, water management is riddled with colonial concepts that are dominating other views,’ explains Boelens. ‘One of the most important ideas is that “Society can be engineered”. It is an implicit idea behind lots of scientific research and behind many development interventions that non-Western societies are somehow ‘less civilized’ and that progress can only be achieved there by modernizing systems and breaking with the past.’

Boelens explains that it is typical for these western mission-like projects to use terms such as ‘best practices’ and ‘good governance’. ‘As if there are universal solutions that you can simply copy from one part of the world and paste them onto another part of the world,’ he says. In water management, there are many cases where private and marketable water rights are introduced based on the idea that this is modernization. This means that water can be owned individually and bought and sold.”

See the full article here: “Knowledge that does not undermine anyone”

Riverhood in the event “Citizen Science in ERC projects”

On December 7th 2022, Rutgerd Boelens, Daniele Tubino, and Bibiana Duarte-Abadia attended the “Citizen Science in ERC projects: Mapping ERC frontier research” event, promoted by the European Research Council, in Brussels, Belgium. Riverhood (which was awarded an ERC Consolidator grant – grant agreement No 101002921) was included in the selected research projects (showcase ERC projects citizen science) presented at the event that use citizen science as one of their methodological approaches. Citizen science constitutes a method that can be included in the innovative approach promoted by Riverhood called “river co-learning arenas” (RCA), which are multi-stakeholders interactive spaces for the promotion of action research to be conducted in the multiple river cases around the world, composing this research endeavor.

The event counted also with presentations of leading scholars in the area of citizen science and generated an interesting debate on the subject, especially in relation to questions concerning ethics in this type of research and the key added value that citizen science can bring to scientific research if it maintains a critical perspective on its application and preserves its potential to add multiple perspectives on the issues at stake.

Carlota Houart’s participation in the Deep Commons Conference 2022

On 27 October, Carlota Houart, PhD researcher at the Riverhood project, participated in the Deep Commons Conference 2022 as part of the panel “Towards multispecies justice”, to present her research proposal, Listening to the Voices of the River: Towards Multispecies Justice in Water Governance Processes. The Deep Commons Conference theme this year was “Cultivating Ecologies of Solidarity and Care beyond Capitalism, Patriarchy, Racism and the State”, and more information about the program and the variety of panel, workshop, and roundtable contributions from researchers, activists, artists and others around the globe can be found here:

Carlota’s presentation focused on the emergent concept and research program of multispecies justice, and how it can be applied to the study of the interests and practices of social movements and local communities mobilizing to defend and restore river ecosystems. By reflecting on recent experiences with preliminary fieldwork in the context of the Dutch river Maas, Carlota also pointed to a few ethical questions surrounding research on human/non-human relations that might be central for any activist researcher working on topics of justice (especially those that entangle and intersect human and other-than-human lives).

Logo for the WASS PhD Council

We are thrilled to share that Catalina Rey Hernández, PhD researcher of the Riverhood project, won the contest to design the logo for the WASS PhD Council.

The decision was announced on October 20, 2022, in the context of the WAS PhD day. The logo conveys ‘diversity’ as the council’s core value and was chosen due to its creativity and originality.

We are very proud of Catalina and look forward to continue witnessing her creations in the years to come!

First steps of Riverhood

In this interview published in the WUR magazine, Rutgerd Boelens reflects on the key issues and ideas addressed by the Riverhood project. This project, developed in partnership with a large number of researchers, activists, local communities, has been awarded a five-year grant from the European Research Council (ERC).

Boelens explains that he came across the ancient and nearly forgotten English term “riverhood” in an encyclopedia: “It turns out to be a nineteenth-century concept that means ‘the state of being a river’. That is what I want to investigate because I don’t see a river as just a lot of flowing water.”

Check out the full interview here.

PhD graduation of Lena Hommes awarded with Cum Laude

On the 6th of July we celebrated the PhD defense of Lena Hommes, researcher in the Riverhood and River Commons projects, who graduated with a cum laude.

In her PhD project “Infrastructure Lives. Water, Territories, and Transformations in Turkey, Peru and Spain”, Lena analysed processes and discussions surrounding the envisioning, construction and contestation of hydraulic infrastructure and connected territorial reconfigurations in Turkey, Peru and Spain. Her central research question is: How are diverging visions and imaginaries about the shaping of hydrosocial territories through large-scale hydraulic infrastructure (dams, water transfers and hydropower plants) in Turkey, Peru and Spain promoted, realized and contested or accepted; and with what effects?

The committee, consisting of Prof Erik Swyngedouw (University of Manchester), Prof Tom Perreault (University of Syracuse), Prof Edward Huijbens (WUR) and Prof Diana Suhardiman (Leiden University), together with the external referees, unanimously qualified the thesis and the oral defence as “excellent”.

The dissertation, supervised by Prof Boelens and Dr Esha Shah (WASS, ESG-WRM), is based on five peer-reviewed articles published in top journals, and 9 publications closely connected. The committee comments that the dissertation also has high social importance: “…the candidate has done the research compassionately, driven not only by desire to know and understand, but also by a strong sense of societal and scientific responsibilities...”. The supervisors explain that the candidate makes hydraulic infrastructure visible, revealing its hidden power and exclusionary practices, opening technological black boxes to allow for public debate and democratic decision-making: “out of the hands of a few technical experts and elites”.

Altogether, the committee and referees summarized that: “taken as a whole, this is an outstanding dissertation. The research is rigorous and of very high quality, and surpasses all standards for social scientific research”.

Interested to learn more about this topic? You can visit the movingrivers website or engage with Dr. Lena Hommes in the afternoon dialogue on August 30. Dr. Lena Hommes and novelist Frank Westerman (‘To true to be good’) will debate their books in the public seminar “Dam dreams and river rewilding: Ideals in dispute” in Impulse, campus WUR.



Summary of Lena’s thesis

Infrastructure Lives: Water, Territories and Transformations in Turkey, Peru and Spain

Lena Hommes

Keywords: Water, infrastructure, political ecology, territories, governmentality, Turkey, Peru, Spain

This dissertation departs from questions about territorialization processes associated with modern hydraulic infrastructure. It asks about the visions and imaginaries that shape hydraulic infrastructure projects and how these imaginaries change through time; how hydraulic infrastructure is a powerful tool to materialize specific imaginaries in expected and unexpected ways; and what effects this brings about for adjacent hydrosocial territories. The central research question is: How have contested imaginaries shaped hydraulic infrastructure projects and, in consequence, (re)configured hydrosocial territories in Turkey, Peru and Spain?

In order to do so, this research gives analytically deep ‘snapshots’ of diverse unfinished moments of hydraulic infrastructures, territorial transformations and associated imaginaries. It takes the diverse contexts of Turkey, Peru and Spain to shed light on different infrastructures, different moments of infrastructural life, and different imaginaries about hydrosocial territories and the role infrastructure should play in it. It shows how the ‘lives of infrastructure’ constantly develop because of shifting material, environmental, political and social relations in different historic and political momentums. In that sense, hydraulic infrastructures as plans, processes and materializations, as socio-technical nodes and mediators in constantly developing human/nonhuman relations, reflect and co-constitute our socionatural living together, our infrastructure lives. Hydraulic infrastructures are therefore not inanimate objects but living and acting as the materialization of socio-political relations and debates about the what and who of our living together. This, in consequence, means that studying hydraulic infrastructure provides a fascinating lens to dissect and understand the questions, struggles and enactments of debates about nature, society and the entwinement of both. With re-naturalisation and dam removal on the rise, some infrastructure’s lives might have already come to an end. But others will continue in the future – either in present forms or reincarnated in new designs, new discourses, new environments, new imaginaries, new relations.