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The anti-flood detention basin projects in northern Italy. New wine in old bottles?

Giorgio Osti
Department of Political and Social Sciences, University of Trieste, Trieste, Italy giorgio.osti@dispes.units.it

ABSTRACT: An increased number of floods have affected the thick urban network located in Northern Italy. The towns traversed by the many rivers descending from the Alps and Apennines must address the problem of retarding water overflow. Detention basins have been envisaged as a good means to achieve more secure protection against floods for thick urban settings.
In Italy, flood prevention policies have been partially decentralized to regions. In this study, the literature on political economy, policy analysis and governance is used to frame the planning and implementation of detention basins. Each approach raises questions on whether and how detention basins represent a return to hard water infrastructures. Three ongoing detention basin projects located in northern Italy have been chosen to illustrate the coalition of interests that support this policy of flood prevention. The selection of cases and their analysis are based on a comparative method considering both similarities and differences between detention basins.
Although governance is highlighted in official documents regarding water policies, this approach has been followed to a very limited extent. The traditional policy community has been able to maintain leadership on projects, including a limited amount of new disciplines and expertise. Moreover, the emphasis on planning expertise creates some space for the governmentality approach. Overall, detention basins represent not a return to heavy infrastructures, but a continuation of traditional intervention methods with small greening changes. However, margins for a softer policy are possible through either recovering old containers/floodplains or developing a network of farm ponds and minor dikes.

KEYWORDS: Flood prevention, detention basin, policy community, governance, Italian Regions