La Miel, a river that originates in the municipality of Marulanda in the Central Andes and debouches into the Magdalena River, has been intervened by a large dam (Miel I) and a run-of-the-river hydroelectric (El Edén). These projects have had considerable impacts on the sources of water in the area, impacting the livelihoods of riverine and peasant communities. Since the year 2021, peasant and fisher communities, environmental movements, and academics have created the “Alianza Abrazo Río La Miel” for the defense of water, life, and territory. They oppose the construction of the hydroelectric project “Miel II” with arguments such as: “rivers for life and not for death”, “La Miel river is to drink not to sell”, and “Our river is not for sale” (Alianza Abrazo Río La Miel, 2022).

Worldwide, rivers face significant environmental challenges growing in frequency and severity: increased urbanization, industrial pollution,  hydroelectricity demands, and climate change are some factors that put rivers under pressure. Despite the implicit political character of such challenges, mainstream water governance tends to approach them as “natural problems affecting all of us” and propose technical solutions to solve them. Such focus leads to a lack of understanding of the political, justice, and democratic dimensions of river governance.

Aiming to address this gap, this research builds on concepts from political ecology and critical legal studies to understand divergent everyday experiences of environmental injustice and the pluri-legal mobilization strategies that riverine communities use to challenge them. The case studies of “La Miel” (Colombia) and “Serpis” (Spain) rivers will nurture the empirical basis of this work. To understand the particularities of both contexts, this research will use River Co-learning Arenas (RCAs) as the primary research method, which may include river walks, environmental justice workshops, in-depth interviews, and video exchanges. This research aims to contribute to conceptual thinking about environmental justice beyond universalism and to better understand the role of pluri-legal mobilization and global exchange of ideas in advancing river defense and environmental justice.