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.

PhD researcher: Ana María Trujillo

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.