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"They have kidnapped our river": Dam removal conflicts in Catalonia and their relation to ecosystem services perceptions

Mathias Brummer
University of Bayreuth, GCE Koordination Lehrstuhl für Biogeografie Universitätsstr, Bayreuth, Germany; mathias.christian.brummer@gmail.com

Beatriz Rodríguez-Labajos
Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Institut de Ciència i Tecnologia Ambientals, Barcelona, Spain; beatriz.rodriguez@uab.cat

Trung Thanh Nguyen
Institute for Environmental Economics and World Trade, Leibniz University Hannover, Germany; thanh.nguyen@iuw.uni-hannover.de

Dídac Jorda-Capdevila
Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Institut de Ciència i Tecnologia Ambientals, Barcelona, Spain; dd.joca@gmail.com

ABSTRACT: River restoration is essential to guarantee access to ecosystem services provided by free-flowing rivers. One mechanism to restore rivers is the decommissioning of run-of-the-river dams, but restoration can create opposition as anthropised landscapes form part of the environmental history and imaginary. To facilitate decision-making, actorsʼ perceptions on ecosystem services for and against dam removal should be considered. We analyse perceptions on ecosystem services at two levels of study in Catalonia (Spain): the Catalan context and two local cases of dam removal in the Ter River Basin. Local case studies illustrate that combining participatory mapping and interviews makes contrasting values conspicuous and contributes to conflict understanding. Additionally, we acknowledge a dichotomy of perceptions between locals and outsiders, and the relevance of cultural values, environmental aesthetics, and history for actorsʼ positioning. We propose the engagement of local stakeholders at the basin level through participatory approaches for the sake of understanding water conflicts, as decision making will rarely achieve social sustainability without local support.

KEYWORDS: Water conflicts, participatory mapping, Mediterranean River basins, cultural values, history