De Berkel River, The Netherlands

The Berkel is a fluvial river that starts in Germany and it meanders towards the Netherlands through the Achterhoek region reaching the city of Zutphen, where it flows into the IJssel (van Onzenoort, 2016). Originally, the river had seasonally overflowed floodplains that constantly changed its meanders (Otermann, 2015). This flooding uncertainty led humans to control the Berkel since the 13th century with canalization works to prevent floods and facilitate navigation (Logemann, 2021; van Onzenoort, 2016). One of the first large-scale landscape transformations was the division of the markegronden (common land) from 1886 where large areas were drained to be parcelled and cultivated (Otermann, 2015). In the 20th century, the Berkel started to be rationally drained through canalizations, weirs, and sluices transforming its landscape with intensified agriculture, land reclamation, and consolidation by provincial and national government initiatives such as the ‘ruilverkaveling’ (Waterschap-Rijn-en-IJssel, 2017).

Nowadays, water management in the Netherlands has new ecological, cultural, and social goals where different actors are working on restoration projects to bring back the meandering condition of the Berkel to enhance its natural-cultural history (Logemann, 2021). The Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality, Rijn en Ijssel Waterboard, Municipalities, land owners, and citizen-private organizations (e.g. Geldersh Landschap en Kasteelen or “the 3rd Berkel Company”) have been active stakeholders in these territorial transformations, leading to a constant process of negotiation regarding the landscape management of the Berkel (Frijhooff et al., 2011). During the research, it will be central to understand how these scales of jurisdiction and their related legal, financial, and political power have historically informed and shaped the transformation of the landscape.

REFERENCES:

Frijhooff, W., Groothedde, M., Strake, C. t., & Loohuis, J. (2011). Historische atlas van Zutphen : torenstad aan Berkel en IJssel. Vantilt.

Logemann, D. (2021). Achtergronden: over de Berkel. Retrieved 2022/06/08 from https://www.berkelpad.nl/achtergronden/over-de-berkel/

Otermann, K. (2015). De Berkel op de schop. Natura, (4), 16-17.

van Onzenoort, K. (2016). Beleef de Berkel. Mooi Gelderland, 13(4), 14-15.

Waterschap-Rijn-en-IJssel. (2017). Berkel en Zijtakken. Retrieved 2022/06/08 from https://www.wrij.nl/statisch/berkel/kopie-watersysteem-0/buurserbeek/

Worldwide, the management of rivers and riverine landscapes has been based on technocratic expert knowledge, involving top-down processes of landscape design, territorial planning, and related social-material transformations. These processes directly affect riverine communities and livelihoods, triggering local confrontations with -and adaptations to- the imposed designs and related forms of socio-material ordering. In this context, this research aims to better understand: a) how such riverine landscape design and territorial ordering plans are shaped and re-created by policies, institutional and normative practices, and specific powerful interest groups; b) how such designs transform socio-material relations and practices in local riverine communities; c) how communities resist, negotiate and transform the imposition of such designs and territorial ordering plans; and d) in which ways counter designs and counter geographies can support resistance groups and networks to express their own riverine understandings, aspirations and interests. The research will focus on the cases of the re-design of the Berkel River (NL) and the contestations around large-scale mining projects in the Quimsacocha wetlands (EC). The research will build on insights from the social construction of technology scholarship and notions of actor-network theory to better understand and theorize the role of ‘designs’ in the contestation and transformation of riverine spaces in which a multiplicity of actors try to create a specific social, technological and environmental order (a hydrosocial territory).

Piatúa River, Ecuador

The Piatúa River is one of the last free-flowing rivers in Ecuador to have so far escaped contamination from mining, pollution, and other forms of negative human interference. It forms a precious ecological corridor across the Amazon rainforest and has been home to both human and other-than-human communities for millennia. Since 2014, however, an Ecuadorian energy company has been trying to build a hydro dam in the area, which would capture more than 70% of the river’s water flow and significantly impact its biodiversity. It also represents a threat against the cultural and historical rights of local Kichwa communities, one of the reasons why they have been actively mobilising against this hydropower development plan. Local communities and environmental organisations have therefore been trying to protect the Piatúa and its local inhabitants (human and non-human), namely by appealing to the rights of the river and of its peoples.

Water is crucial for life on Earth, but many of the world’s rivers are under threat from human activities and infrastructure such as dams, mining and pollution, and diversion or depletion. These forms of controlling and transforming rivers are responsible not only for the impoverishment and disempowerment of riverine human communities across the globe; but also for the endangerment and disappearance of global populations of freshwater species and of diverse animal and plant communities who live in, with, and around rivers. In such context, I will explore the theoretical and on-the-ground implications of conceptualizing and understanding rivers and their socio-environments through the lens of multispecies justice. Multispecies justice is an emergent research program that views a diversity of humans and other-than-human beings as subjects of justice; and that seeks to reflect on how to transform our relations with other beings in accordance with this.

From a political ecology perspective, I will analyse how both human and non-human beings co-inhabit, co-create, and co-shape river systems. This will involve critically looking into how their agency and participation in rivers might be acknowledged, represented, and/or included in grassroots initiatives; and what consequences this may have in terms of political relations and processes. By doing multispecies ethnography in the Piatúa River in Ecuador and the Maas River in the Netherlands, I will focus on the following question: “How can the notion of multispecies justice help to conceptualise and support socio-environmental river defense and restoration practices in the biodiverse hydrosocial territories of the Piatúa and the Maas Rivers, and what are the main challenges, pitfalls, and possibilities of applying this notion across scales, cultures, and contexts?”.

Serpis River, Spain

Serpis, a Mediterranean river that runs from the city of Alcoy and flows into the Mediterranean sea in the town of Gandia, currently suffers from water pollution, the presence of invasive species and the alteration of the river regime (Aznar-Frasquet, 2015). Several actors have joined the “Plataforma Ciutadana per a la Defensa del Riu Serpis” aiming to exchange ideas to combat such problems. However, collective efforts have been challenging given the lack of agreement on issues such as whether the Serpis is a perennial or a temporal river that naturally runs dry during summer and whether the ‘azudes’ (weirs) that are not being officially used should be removed or modified to allow the free flow of the river.

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.

Lebrija River, Colombia

Upper Watershed Lebrija River: The intensified process of urbanization, monoculture and mining extractive logics have severely impacted the overall well-being of the main river’s tributaries, creeks, páramos, and riparian forests. By tracing connections between the well-being and health of the river and the well-being of people’s livelihoods, women and peasant’s associations, as well as urban gardeners, researchers, and environmental activists are responding to the river’s pollution, deforestation, and water depletion along different parts of the upper watershed.

This PhD action-research project sets out to critically examine the manifold attempts to regenerate, repair, and protect damaged riverine socio-ecologies in contexts of multiple socio-environmental injustices. Drawing from feminist political ecology, hydrosocial territories scholarship, and feminist conceptualizations on care, the aim of this research is to understand how have riverine hydrosocial territories been (re)configured through practices of care in response to multiple modern-colonial socio-environmental transformations. Thus, recognizing the contested nature of hydrosocial territories, and traveling between multiple human and more-than-human actors and temporal-spatial scales, this research will examine caring practices in their affective, ethical, political, and epistemic dimensions while attempting to understand how they have (re)configured riverine territories. To do this, through art-based methods and counter-cartographies stemming from feminist, decolonial, and participatory action-research methodologies, this research will study the upper basin of the Lebrija river in Colombia and the lower basin of the Guadalquivir river in Spain. Cross-pollinating these two case studies will allow to ponder how caring practices challenge the modern-colonial hegemonic human-water relations through which rivers are currently managed and governed, offering theoretical and methodological tools to support endangered riverine socio-ecologies and struggles towards intersectional socio-environmental justice.

Guadalquivir River, Spain

Lower basin of the Guadalquivir River: The intensive monoculture of rice, olive trees, and berries, and the irregular groundwater extraction, has led to the over-explotation of the region’s aquifers and to the desertification of the whole lower area, especially along the marshes of the river’s estuary known as the Doñana wetland. The fierce agro-industry deployed in this territory is not only responsible of the over-exploitation of the land and water of the region, but of the appalling living and working conditions of migrant women labourers. Feminist and environmental activists, researchers, and local small farmers spread out along the lower river basin have pointed out the conflict between the socio-ecological integrity of the river and the exploitative paradigm of the agro-industry by pushing forward multiple initiatives (e.g urban gardens, agroecological education programs, restoration of creeks and riparian forests) as part of a ‘new water culture’.

This PhD action-research project sets out to critically examine the manifold attempts to regenerate, repair, and protect damaged riverine socio-ecologies in contexts of multiple socio-environmental injustices. Drawing from feminist political ecology, hydrosocial territories scholarship and feminist conceptualizations on care, the aim of this research is to understand how have riverine hydrosocial territories been (re)configured through practices of care in response to multiple modern-colonial socio-environmental transformations. Thus, recognizing the contested nature of hydrosocial territories, and traveling between multiple human and more-than-human actors and temporal-spatial scales, this research will examine caring practices in their affective, ethical, political, and epistemic dimensions while attempting to understand how they have (re)configured riverine territories. To do this, through art-based methods and counter-cartographies stemming from feminist, decolonial, and participatory action-research methodologies, this research will study the upper basin of the Lebrija river in Colombia and the lower basin of the Guadalquivir river in Spain. Cross-pollinating these two case studies will allow to ponder how caring practices challenge the modern-colonial hegemonic human-water relations through which rivers are currently managed and governed, offering theoretical and methodological tools to support endangered riverine socio-ecologies and struggles towards intersectional socio-environmental justice.

Quimsacocha wetlands, Ecuador

The Quimsacocha wetlands are an Andean páramo with natural fresh-water lakes. This highly sensitive environment is at constant risk because of urban pressure and large-scale mining activities (Duarte-Abadía & Boelens, 2016; Hidalgo-Bastidas et al., 2017; Mena-Vásconez et al., 2016). In Quimsacocha, the government of Rafael Correa (2007-2017) promoted mega-mining projects under promises such as ‘Good living’ and ‘Water as Human Right’ aiming to introduce the idea of ‘Mining for the Good Living’ in communities’ imaginaries, representing mining as essential for societal progress and wellbeing (Valladares & Boelens, 2019). However, technical reports (Kuipers, 2016), suggest that such projects have high risks for the environment, the communities, and the water system.

The affected communities are resisting, framing new (re)territorialization processes through counter-conducts that challenge the dominant power and aim to generate new cultural-material hydrosocial territories (Boelens, 2015; de Vos et al., 2006; Hoogesteger et al., 2016). Farmers, indigenous groups, and environmentalists have been strongly protesting against these mining projects since 2004, advocating for their rights to access safe water supply, on which they depend for dairy farming, agriculture, and everyday life (Sacher & Acosta, 2012). Since 2019, the communities achieved the realization of two official consultations regarding the future of mining, opening up the possibility for citizens to prohibit mining activities in Quimsacocha (Acosta & Cajas Guijarro, 2020). In 2022, the FOA (Federación de Organizaciones Indígenas y Campesinas del Azuay) presented a legal protection that officially stopped the mining interventions in the area for being considered unconstitutional (Sánchez-Mendieta, 2022).

REFERENCES:

Acosta, A., & Cajas Guijarro, J. (2020). Democracia o barbarie minera. Cuenca por el agua, Cuenca por la vida.

Boelens, R. (2015). Water, Power and Identity: The Cultural Politics of Water in the Andes  [Book]. Taylor and Francis Inc. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315867557

de Vos, H., Boelens, R., & Bustamante, R. (2006). Formal law and local water control in the Andean region: A fiercely contested field [Article]. International Journal of Water Resources Development, 22(1), 37-48. https://doi.org/10.1080/07900620500405049

Duarte-Abadía, B., & Boelens, R. (2016). Disputes over territorial boundaries and diverging valuation languages: the Santurban hydrosocial highlands territory in Colombia. Water International, 41(1), 15-36. https://doi.org/10.1080/02508060.2016.1117271

Hidalgo-Bastidas, J. P., Boelens, R., & Vos, J. (2017). De-colonizing water. Dispossession, water insecurity, and Indigenous claims for resources, authority, and territory. Water History, 9(1), 67-85. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12685-016-0186-6

Hoogesteger, J., Boelens, R., & Baud, M. (2016). Territorial pluralism: water users’ multi-scalar struggles against state ordering in Ecuador’s highlands. Water International, 41(1), 91-106. https://doi.org/10.1080/02508060.2016.1130910

Kuipers, J. (2016). Informe Pericial sobre los proyectos Loma Larga y Río Blanco. Provincia de Azuay.

Mena-Vásconez, P., Boelens, R., & Vos, J. (2016). Food or flowers? Contested transformations of community food security and water use priorities under new legal and market regimes in Ecuador’s highlands. Journal of Rural Studies, 44, 227-238. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jrurstud.2016.02.011

Sacher, W., & Acosta, A. (2012). La minería a gran escala en Ecuador. Abya-Yala.

Sánchez-Mendieta, C. (2022, 14-07-2022). Loma Larga: segundo proyecto minero que se para en Cuenca. El Mercurio. https://elmercurio.com.ec/2022/07/14/segundo-proyecto-minero-paralizado-en-cuenca/

Valladares, C., & Boelens, R. (2019). Mining for Mother Earth. Governmentalities, sacred waters and nature’s rights in Ecuador. Geoforum, 100, 68-79. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.geoforum.2019.02.009

Worldwide, the management of rivers and riverine landscapes has been based on technocratic expert knowledge, involving top-down processes of landscape design, territorial planning, and related social-material transformations. These processes directly affect riverine communities and livelihoods, triggering local confrontations with -and adaptations to- the imposed designs and related forms of socio-material ordering. In this context, this research aims to better understand: a) how such riverine landscape design and territorial ordering plans are shaped and re-created by policies, institutional and normative practices, and specific powerful interest groups; b) how such designs transform socio-material relations and practices in local riverine communities; c) how communities resist, negotiate and transform the imposition of such designs and territorial ordering plans; and d) in which ways counter designs and counter geographies can support resistance groups and networks to express their own riverine understandings, aspirations, and interests. The research will focus on the cases of the re-design of the Berkel River (NL) and the contestations around large-scale mining projects in the Quimsacocha wetlands (EC). The research will build on insights from the social construction of technology scholarship and notions of actor-network theory to better understand and theorize the role of ‘designs’ in the contestation and transformation of riverine spaces in which a multiplicity of actors try to create a specific social, technological and environmental order (a hydrosocial territory).

uMngeni River, South Africa

UMngeni River is a river in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. UMngeni river rises in the KwaZulu Natal midlands, and its mouth is at Durban which is the third largest city in the country. The river passes three dams including Albert Falls which consists of pastoral landscape where stock farming and forestry are practiced, Nagle Dam passing through informal settlements with thin vegetation and the catchment passes through the Inanda Dam to the Indian Ocean (Dikole, 2014).

UMngeni river is the primary source of water for more than 3.5 million people and generates almost 65 percent of the provincial gross domestic product (State of the River Report UMngeni, 2002). Thus, the UMngeni region is one of major economic, cultural and ecological importance and engagement with river co-management work is necessary if all these needs and activities are to be sustainable and more equitably shared, with all perspectives and values of the river equally respected (State of the River Report UMngeni, 2002). Currently, this is not the case, as water demand in the uMngeni catchment has outstripped the river’s ability to supply, and it is inequitably shared with local Black communities most disenfranchised as a result of the contamination of the streams and waterways with raw sewage and pollution due largely to unsustainable human settlements, aging infrastructure and inadequate proactive and sustainable development planning, failing local government institutions and inadequate support for civic-based engagement and monitoring activities

Freshwater sources are central to the sustenance of life, economies, and ecologies  (Anderson et al., 2019). Despite this recognition of the importance of water, water shortages and degrading of freshwater sources is still a common occurrence globally (Sultana, 2018).   In South Africa, there are water shortages and some parts of the country rely on rivers and other freshwater sources for water. With climate change, water shortages are expected to get worse because of recurrent extreme weather events such as droughts, floods, and heatwaves. Community involvement is needed to face such situations because they are implementers and may hold significant knowledge, different perspectives, and the ability to challenge perspectives that have not contributed to solving their issues. It is of utmost importance that communities are able to carry forward the work of protecting their catchments even when the experts have left or projects have ended. Thus, catchments as Complex Adaptive Social Ecological Systems (CASES) involve relationality, in particular, they require learning-focused approaches for effective and responsive management (Cockburn et al., 2019).

Thus, there is a need to investigate and understand how riverine communities, especially those who are directly dependent on the river for their day-to-day water needs can be included in processes that are aimed at protecting and encouraging sustainable catchment use. There are a number of projects in South Africa that are aimed at the rehabilitation and management of catchments and other freshwater resources. This research project seeks to understand how to include those who are considered to be marginalized, namely the poor communities that suffer from river or catchment degradation into meaningful river co-governance and management.

Cuando River, Southern Africa

The Cuando/Kwando River is a transboundary river located in the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA TFCA) in Southern Africa. It is shared by Angola, Botswana, Namibia, and Zambia with its headwaters in Angola. Being central to KAZA TFCA, the river is crucial to the area as it provides drinking water to both the people and an array of wildlife species in the Area as well as providing fish as a source of protein to the people. As fishing is one of the activities common to the river, there is an unharmonized vision on fishery management as well as governance of the river from a local to a regional level. The research will be focused between countries, Namibia and Zambia which both lie in the middle of the river and the middle of Angola upstream and Botswana downstream.

River Governance is crucial for the Cuando/Kwando River due to the importance it serves to the Area. As the different riparian countries contribute to its governance, still an unharmonized vision on its management and governance has not been reached, especially with regular activities on the river such as fishing. Fishing is said to have both sustainable and unsustainable practices that contribute to river governance. These practices are often shared within and across fishing structures. This study investigates how a learning process (social learning) in and between fishing structures as ecologies of practices of Zambia and Namibia contribute to river governance of the Cuando/Kwando River. As a qualitative study, the research uses the Participatory Action Research approach in a social learning context and seeks to answer the research goal by addressing the cultural-discursive, material-economic and social-political dimensions of the fishing practice in and between local communities as well as in and between national to regional communities. This will be based by understanding the relationship between social learning and river governance in Southern Africa. The research further concludes with implications of the fishing practice on the river governance of the Cuando River. Data-generating methods to be used include, semi-structured interviews, and river co-learning arenas in the form of dialogue workshops catalysed by a river basin game on fishery management.

Cauvery delta, Tamil Nadu, India

The Cauvery delta is situated at the mouth of the 800 km-long Cauvery river. This delta, also known as the ‘rice bowl of southern India’, is composed of a complex network of distributaries that support an ancient irrigation system and an intensively cultivated region.

Today, it faces numerous anthropogenic and natural threats, like reduced surface flows, saltwater intrusion, and high-amplitude cyclones. These environmental changes are coupled with socio-economic issues like the propagation of commercial shrimp farming at the cost of agricultural land, rising unemployment, and the continued oppression of landless labourers.

Against this background, the delta is witnessing both confrontation to resist and reform hegemonic powers, as well as productive efforts to re-imagine and create new water management practices. In the Vennar command area, the state government started an internationally financed climate adaptation project in 2016. This is being contested by local actors, who perceive it to be increasing inequity and marginalization. Alongside efforts that challenge centralized developmental interventions, the delta has also seen grassroots efforts to manage water. For instance, there has been a proliferation of bottom-up government- and community-led tank rejuvenation initiatives to recharge groundwater. Inspired by the citizen movements and aiming to create open knowledge, ATREE has started a citizen science initiative to enable local citizens to collect groundwater data, analyze it and interpret it to tell their own story.

This research will probe the above developments in the delta and support efforts to democratize (what counts as) scientific data by adding knowledge into scientific circles and making data publicly available.

Within the landscape of studying rivers from a commons perspective, deltas can be seen as microcosms of the ‘hydrosociety’ at large. At the same time, they are highly vulnerable geographies and need special focus. Technocratic delta management strategies to ‘keep the water out’ have been largely unsuccessful and exclusionary, leading to the growing recognition of the need to learn to live with water in more inclusive and sustainable ways.

With an intention of exploring the challenges and possibilities for delta governance, this research focusses on the Cauvery delta, situated at the mouth of the 800km-long Cauvery river in Southern India.

As in any settled geography, there are several stakeholders of the delta, with varying understandings of (‘ontologies’) and aspirations for it. The power negotiations among these actors lead to infrastructural and governance interventions, which shape the water sinks and flows, in turn impacting the deltaic ecology and society.

Recognising that the story of water is determined by the variables that enact it, this research asks the question “what is the delta’s water”, as a prerequisite to thinking about “how to manage the delta’s water”. This research explores how the interconnections among people, nature (particularly the hydrology of surface water, groundwater, rainwater, and seawater), and technology in the delta are translated through its multi-layered geography. Understanding this veritable palimpsest of spaces makes for opportunities to address these challenges and plan for the future in this complex multi-layered geography.

Bogotá River headwaters, Colombia

The river and wetlands system of the Bogotá region, in central Colombia, is not a mere geographical setting but forms the very ecological core of the history and memories of Bogotá city and the Cundinamarca department. The Bogotá River, with 375 km, crosses the Bogotá Savanna from north to south, eventually reaching the Magdalena River, the country’s main fluvial artery. The headwater region is located at 3,400 meters above sea level in the Guacheneque Highlands in a páramo socioecosystem. Twelve kilometers downstream, the river begins to receive waste from tanneries and quarries, pesticides and fertilizers, as well as load releases from the sewers of industries and cities, turning it into one of the most contaminated rivers in the world. The riverbed transformation in the floodplain mirrors the rapid urbanization processes of the region, ushered during the 20th Century and still ongoing. In the last decade, public concern over the river’s restoration has put pressure on its headwater region, where socioecological memories of collective conservation practices and public-private water governance schemes currently coexist, producing or increasing both environmental conflicts and collaborations to restore the rivers’ wetlands through different river infrastructures.

Currently, collective conservation practices and public-private governance schemes coexist in the Bogotá River headwaters. The actor interactions are based on and foster both collaboration efforts as well as conflicts, in particular as a reaction to expert-based, top-down and ahistorical river interventions. A critical analysis of the historical planning and re-patterning process in Bogotá River’s headwaters is lacking. Public, private, and communitarian initiatives have executed their own river-enlivening practices but with different proposes, clashing with their future visions and blocking the process of recovering socio-ecological river life. Therefore, this research will investigate how river imaginaries (in particular, socioecological memories) differ per actor group, and how these dynamically relate to materialization through technological intervention and governance proposals. The main objective is to analyze the materialization of different socioecological memories in river infrastructures in the Bogotá River headwaters. This research emphasizes the socioecological memory–infrastructure nexus regarding grassroots self-organized initiatives and public-private alliances which trigger new social relations and spatial configuration to support new imaginaries and future-making.