River Cases
River Commons
  • Warna River, India

    The Warna River is a 150 km long tributary of the Krishna river in peninsular India. The minor ethnic and traditional communities share cultural, spiritual, social, and economic relationships with the natural resources shaped by the river. These communities were displaced twice, first for the establishment of the Chandoli National Park (biodiversity) and second for the Warna dam to provide water to the flourishing agriculture and sugarcane industrial belt located in the middle and lower reaches. The displaced communities (about 32 villages) were not fairly compensated by the state and many people had to migrate to cities and downstream locations for better livelihood options. Some of them joined the locally established social movement, Krantiveer Babuji Patankar Lok Shastriya va Prabhodhan Sanstha (KBPLSP) to gain fair compensatory rights. Through the local social movement, the displaced persons received land for subsistence farming, and they were also able to form water user associations in the area. The lower part of the basin is a progressive agriculture and sugarcane industrial belt, where most of the displaced communities have migrated and work as agriculture laborers. In the Warna basin, the tentacles of neoliberal modes of governance have replaced the traditional knowledge and changed the intricate relationship of the communities with the riverscapes, challenging their identities. The ethnic communities in the upper part of the Warna basin shared cultural and spiritual relationships with the forests and the rivers which were reflected in their daily practices to conserve them as commons. This research looks into the historical development in the basin and explores the different power and political regimes which have shaped the current river governing practices.

    Humans and the more-than/non-human entities like the river, materials, and multi-variant species constantly interact creating and maintaining multiple realities. Framing rivers within the relational dynamics construct new meanings, values, norms, and knowledges in the physical, social, institutional, cultural, and political spaces which define ‘hydrosocial territories’. Powerful and dominant actors, often transcending national jurisdictions, create social norms and local rules, which to a varying degree lead to marginalization and loss of voice of other groups of actors, with less power, including the non-human entity. In this process of epistemic violence and silencing, important knowledges, meanings and information can be lost which are important to manage and govern rivers. This research will unravel these emergent relational dynamics in the context of the Warna watershed in India, to make space for other epistemologies animated by social justice, dynamics around social movements and river imaginaries to create and co-govern the Warna river commons, safeguarding rights of nature that go beyond the current legal frameworks in India. The overall research focuses on concepts emerging from political ecology, mainly focusing on notions of power relations and governmentality and actor-network theory. A qualitative research approach will be applied, with empirical and experiential field evidence to support my research, which includes creative and transformative learning methods to collect data.

  • Magdalena river – Ciénegas of the bajo-Magdalena, Colombia

    The Ciénagas of the bajo-Magdalena form a dynamic swamp ecosystem with a mix of water from the Cauca and Magdalena rivers. The area is considered an important ecosystem and water buffer during extreme hydrological events. Moreover, the area is seen as vulnerable to climatic variability in the context of climate change and La Niña/El Niño episodes. Throughout the region, several adaptation projects have been implemented and shared as success stories of nature-based adaptation. These projects vary from social-cohesion projects to infrastructural projects. The development of hydrological models, together with participatory activities have informed the implementation of adaptation measures, both through grassroots initiatives and governmental support. Current debates on the future of the river and marshlands include ideas around the navigability of the river, ecosystem services of the river, fish-friendly rivers, and reforestation initiatives.

    Climate change adaptation has influenced river management through an anticipatory governance paradigm. As such, futures and the power of knowing the future have become increasingly influential in water management. Yet, multiple future imaginaries co-exist, where some are more dominant than others. In this PhD research, the focus is on deconstructing the future-making process in climate change adaptation by asking “what future-making tools and practices in the context of climate change adaptation influence river infrastructure for the Meuse and Magdalena rivers?”. Firstly, this investigation explores existing river imaginaries of diverse epistemic communities in both case studies. Secondly, it explores how imaginaries are materialized in tools and practices for climate change adaptation. It herein focuses on numerical models and participatory practices. Thirdly, this research explores how dominant imaginaries are contested and mobilized in climate change adaptation. The power of future-making is approached through a combination of Foucault and Butler’s conceptualization of power. Imaginaries are approached through a science and technology lens in combination with hydrosocial territories, and the imaginary holders are approached through the concept of epistemic communities. A focus on empirical research methods will guide theoretical findings. Finally, a reflection on researcher’s own positionality in action-research will be presented – which will be an iterative process of learning and unlearning while navigating between the natural and social sciences.

  • Meuse river – Border-Meuse river section, The Netherlands

    The Border-Meuse (Dutch: Grensmaas) section of the river Meuse forms the border between Belgium and The Netherlands. The Meuse enters The Netherlands below Maastricht and is named the ‘Grensmaas’ between the Borgharen dam and the Linne dam. In between, the river is free-flowing and considered natural. This section of the Meuse is not used for navigation and has seen substantial changes through the last decade through the implementation of the Grensmaas project. The Grensmaas project has nearly been implemented and is one of the success stories of climate change adaptation through nature-based solutions in The Netherlands. The riverbed has been widened through gravel extraction and nature can develop in the floodplains to increase water safety. Multiple ideas on how the ideal future river should look have been developed, which are shaped and reshaped by participatory and modeling practices. The materialized end-product is the result of negotiating these ideas. Current debates on the future of the river include ideas around the rights of nature/rivers, fish-friendly rivers, climate adaptation, and river quality initiatives.

    Climate change adaptation has influenced river management through an anticipatory governance paradigm. As such, futures and the power of knowing the future have become increasingly influential in water management. Yet, multiple future imaginaries co-exist, where some are more dominant than others. In this PhD research, the focus is on deconstructing the future-making process in climate change adaptation by asking “what future-making tools and practices in the context of climate change adaptation influence river infrastructure for the Meuse and Magdalena rivers?”. Firstly, this investigation explores existing river imaginaries of diverse epistemic communities in both case studies. Secondly, it explores how imaginaries are materialized in tools and practices for climate change adaptation. It herein focuses on numerical models and participatory practices. Thirdly, this research explores how dominant imaginaries are contested and mobilized in climate change adaptation. The power of future-making is approached through a combination of Foucault and Butler’s conceptualization of power. Imaginaries are approached through a science and technology lens in combination with hydrosocial territories, and the imaginary holders are approached through the concept of epistemic communities. A focus on empirical research methods will guide theoretical findings. Finally, a reflection on the researcher’s own positionality in action-research will be presented – which will be an iterative process of learning and unlearning while navigating between the natural and social sciences.

  • Ping River, Chiang Mai, Thailand

    The peasant farming system of the Chiangmai valley was established more than 700 years ago with the majority of agricultural communities located across the intermontane basins of the Upper Ping River. These lowland settlements of Chiangmai Valley and their subsistence livelihoods had been built based on animism belief, sustainable natural resources management with population control, strategic geographic locations, and landscape planning strategies. Muang Fai networks, the traditional nature-based irrigation systems was an essential community component in the rice fields of the valley to control the crop productions, population growth in the communities, due to water limitations in the region. These networks have long been operated locally by social networks and multilevel coordination within the river networks with local knowledge and spirit cult.

    Today, The agricultural communities of Chiangmai valley have experienced substantial socioeconomic and political changes in the past century as a part of nation-building. The communities that were based on subsistence-oriented production with limited resources have transformed into agroindustry with modern irrigation schemes, tourism industry, and rapid urbanization. The water resources are no longer sufficient for everyone. This has also drastically altered the river ecology and the livelihoods of the locals who have inhabited along the Ping River and its tributaries for many centuries.

  • Sumapaz River Basin, Colombia

    In the Sumapaz river basin, in Colombia, several projects related to mineral extraction, hydropower production, and nature conservation are underway. These interventions alter river landscapes and territorialities, leading to conflicts over access to and use of water. Local populations throughout the basin have mobilized to ensure their permanence in the territory while proposing alternatives to challenge dominant water governance schemes. There, agrarian movements claim rivers and water as part of their territory and identity and envision new discourses and meanings around rivers, in which water is conceived as central to sustaining life.

    The research on the Sumapaz River Basin focuses on analyzing how river ecological fixes related to governance and technology interventions aimed at addressing the current environmental crisis transform river landscapes and territories. It addresses the emerging conflicts around rivers in the framework of these arrangements, pointing out their material and ontological dimensions. It seeks to highlight the alternative co-governance initiatives that emerge during commoning processes developed by agrarian movements mobilized for environmental and water justice.

  • Cauca River, Colombia

    The Cauca department in Colombia is home to a series of territorial and ontological disputes between companies, politicians, and extra-legal actors that represent the neoliberal logic of accumulation on the one hand and indigenous, peasant, and Afro-Colombian communities that defend collective proposals of dignified territorial governance and river commoning on the other. Extractive industry based economies and market-driven hydro-governance were forced upon a wide range of territories around the Cauca River through techno-political-economic reconfiguration schemes, fostering mining of gold and construction material; sugar cane plantations; wood production for carton; coca plantations; and energy production and water regulation through hydroelectrical dams. These were already imposed under colonial rule and now continue to be part of the economic interests around the Cauca River, resulting in multiple disputes that reshape the prevailing hydrosocial territorial relationships.

    This research project, therefore, investigates how rural communities around the Cauca river understand hydro-social justices, the strategies that they use to advance in their realization of ‘river commoning’ and the possible role that the recognition of the river as a political subject can play in strategies to advance hydro-social justice. The Paletará indigenous community in the municipality of Coconuco, for instance, wants to articulate this specific research with their legal and political actions aimed to receive recognition of its Environmental and Economic Territorial Authority as well as legal special protection of its territory, since the spring of the Cauca River is within the territory of Paletará. Next, this research also wants to articulate with the struggle for agrarian reform by peasant communities in Cajibio by questioning land and water concentration by hegemonic stakeholders who own thousands of hectares of non-edible products in the fertile valley of the Cauca River in the center of the department. Finally, Afro-Colombian communities in Santander de Quilichao have been dispossessed by the sugar cane industry and the hydroelectric dam La Salvajina. Their legal and political struggle is focused on reparation, land reform, and water justices. Together with the riverine communities, the specific research questions will be collectively identified, to articulate them to their livelihood and territorial needs and claims.

    This specific research is embedded within the program of the Belgian solidarity organization Broederlijk Delen in Colombia. It combines the accompaniment of an Afro-Colombian, indigenous, and farmer community, all of which are organized through the Comité Ambiental por la Defensa de la Vida, el Agua y el Territorio,  and immersed in territorial disputes with extractive industries in the Cauca river basin, with academic research. The main question of this research is: How are three rural communities in a context of territorial and ontological disputes around the Cauca River disrupting disciplinary techniques and the accompanying epistemologies and ontologies by hydro-hegemonies to materialize proposals of autonomy and hydro-social and ecological justice?

  • 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.

Riverhood
  • Tagus-Segura interbasin transfer, Spain

    In its inauguration in 1979, the Tagus-Segura Interbasin Transfer was designed to transfer up to 650 hm3/year of water from the head of the Tagus river along 286 km of canals, pipes, and the Jucar river, to the Segura river basin. From there it is distributed for human consumption and to a large swathe of irrigated territory across the region of Murcia and the provinces of Alicante (Valencian Community) and Almeria (Andalusia). It is the subject of intense contestations across geographies, territories, and political scales, with economic groups and political movements on either side claiming the Tagus headwaters as their basin’s own. Environmental movements increasingly claim the need for larger quantities of minimum environmental flows, water-related ecological issues are increasing in size and scope in both basins, and low rainfall has decreased the amount of Tagus headwaters transferred, instigating contestations further. In this context, this research collaborates with irrigation associations in both the Tagus and Segura basins, where it aims to understand irrigators’ perceptions of their territory, what the local problems related to water and agriculture are, how the transfer has impacted them, and what their perceptions of other irrigator associations in different territories and basins are. Similarly, this research explores their hopes and doubts for the water future of their territories, their perceptions of sustainability, and how this sustainability is perceived in their territories and across their own and other basins.

    Actual and projected water scarcity has accelerated the development, both in number and in scale, of hydrological infrastructure, particularly of mega-projects in the form of Inter-Basin Water Transfers (IBWTs). These are unique since IBWTs transfer freshwater from one geographically distinct river catchment or basin to another. In the most ambitious cases, planned IBWTs would make up multi-IBWT hydro-networks. Despite increased implementation of demand-side policies with the IWRM water governance paradigm shift, supply-side options in the form of IBWTs are going to increase. IBWTs are a powerful empirical case to deploy and examine hydrosocial territories, since they shift and change socionatural relations across scales, temporalities, and territories, (re)casting the relationships between individuals, society, the State, and nature, as well as with and beyond water. Using IBWTs as the empirical case, this research sits at the intersection of the political ecology of water, socionatural relations, science and technology studies, subjectivities, and feminist futures scholarship. It argues that IBWTs craft new and contradictory hydrosocial relations, inserting specific territories, populations, and ecologies into intensifying processes of globalization and accumulation, and others into hinterlands, along specific sociopolitical narratives that fashion hegemonic, counterhegemonic, ambiguous, and contested socionatural subjects and territories. Using a mixed methods approach, this research analyzes IBWTs both from above – reviewing the literature on IBWTs from across the world to provide broad perspectives, and from below – taking the Tajo-Segura IBWT in Spain and irrigation farmers on either side of the transfer – to explore this argument.

  • La Miel River, Colombia

    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.

  • Meuse River, The Netherlands

    The river Meuse is a transboundary river with multiple forms of human infrastructure (e.g. dams and weirs) along its course on Dutch territory, and that has been historically highly polluted by industry. Recent campaigns and initiatives have been developed to try to restore its natural landscape and river health. Overall, this case gathers different aspects of human/non-human relations and of nature-society entanglements that make it an interesting study site for a research project on multispecies justice, including: nature restoration or nature “development” projects such as the Grensmaas/Border Meuse project or the Biesbosch protected wetland; how human infrastructure such as the impressive Haringvlietdam impacts fish migration and other features of everyday non-human life and the human cultural practices associated with these; a recent campaign to recognise rights to the river Meuse (“Maak de Maas de Baas”); among others.

    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, this research 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, this research 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 Meuse River in the Netherlands, this investigation 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?”.

  • 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).