The Moving Rivers Webinar Series aims at creating a space for inter(trans) disciplinary dialogue between PhD researchers and project partners: International/national NGOs, water policy and advocacy institutes, government water management institutions, and civil society water platforms. These webinar series take place every two months and seek to actively promote exchanges between theory and practice on river regeneration, social-ecological justice, and the formulation of more equitable water policies.
The session on the 8th of September critically explored how past-present-future connections of river imaginaries have influenced and are influencing river management in the context of climate change adaptation. Lotte de Jong reflected in particular on the Border-Meuse river trajectory, where a large-scale infrastructure project is implemented as a nature-based solution to climate change. While Carles Sanchis Ibor looked at the issue of rivers not only as flows of water, but also as flows of sediments.
Socio-technical imaginaries have a profound impact on how societies conceptualize and devise approaches to manage the rivers. This includes the promotion of local and community participation in river management decisions. Yet, it is the power and political structure that ultimately influence which imaginaries are to be realized for the development of society. Using a case study approach, Lotte de Jong, in her research articulates the different truth regimes that exist to shape the imaginaries of the communities to control and manage the Meuse River in the Netherlands. The current eco-modernist approach in the Netherlands is to provide room for the river and restore its ecological functions, but still trying to control the river for its navigation purposes. Lotte in her research focuses on the participation of the local communities to come up with alternative mechanisms to make imaginaries more powerful and thereby manage rivers sustainably.
Continuing the imaginary concept and the need to strengthen the participation processes for better practices around rivers, Carles Ibor from Valencia University spoke about the intermittent rivers and ephemeral rivers (IRES) in Spain. IRES have sporadic flows, and the various aquatic and terrestrial species around it adapt to the rapidly changing water conditions. These rivers contribute to water availability, recharge the groundwater, and support biodiversity. Yet they also contribute to various environmental stressors, and therefore, the management and conservation of such rivers require an understanding of their unique characteristics. Ibor specifically spoke about how these rivers have been diverted for irrigation purposes and the channelization and concretization of river banks have led to the Mediterranean IRES as being ‘cyborgs’ or ‘hybrids’. The term cyborgs refers to the blending of the natural river systems with human-made interventions. Participatory processes can help to build imaginaries around rivers for their conservation and restoration and while devising strategies one needs to adopt the cultural-centric view of the river as well. It is also important to keep in mind that the rivers are dynamic systems and they too need time to readjust and re-adapt to interventions and no universal principles are applicable to manage and restore rivers.
Lotte de Jong
Carles Sanchis Ibor