Meike Klarenbeek

Wageningen University, The Netherlands

Supervisory team: Rutgerd Boelens, Juan Pablo Hidalgo Bastidas.

Following the National Water Law, both national and regional governments in Ecuador have set out to distribute water rights in a fixed liters/second allocation. Yet, in a country that is characterised by highly seasonal rainfall and flow patterns, this practice is increasingly seen to result in an overallocation of existing water resources. In the Nagsiche river basin, this overallocation presents periods of water scarcity, during which a myriad of actors scramble for access to water. While most of the water users have a formal right to extract water from the river, the opportunities to materialise these water rights are drying up. The institutionalised water scarcity along the Nagsiche river therefore results in tensions between the multitude of water right holders in the river’s territory and the existence of fictitious water rights, or agua de papel – water rights that exist on paper but do not result in actual water access in practice. The situation in the Nagsiche river basin reveals how power asymmetries between different water users open up a new realm of environmental injustices in Ecuador, where access to water has become a highly politicised subject.

This research aims to unravel the realities of water users that depend on the flow of the Nagsiche river in Ecuador. It aims to uncover the power dynamics that are encapsulated in the rules and regulations that determine water access along this river, and how both explicit and subtle rules of inclusion and exclusion influence the opportunities of various water users to materialise their water rights. Involving the water users along the Nagsiche river basin, the research aims to reproduce the stories of what it means for various actors to defend their water access and control in a waterscape that is filled with an increasingly wide variety of actors with highly divergent interests. The focus is specifically on the conflictive realities that are generated by the inconsistency in the opportunities for different actors to materialise their on-paper-rights, and how affected water users in the Nagsiche river basin would envision a more just waterscape.