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The Role of the Water Framework Directive in the controversial transition of water policy paradigms in Spain and Portugal

Julia Martínez-Fernández
Universidad de Murcia, Spain; and Fundación Nueva Cultura del Agua, Zaragoza, Spain; julia@fnca.eu

Susana Neto
CERIS – Civil Engineering Research and Innovation for Sustainability, Department of Civil Engineering, Architecture and Georesources, University of Lisbon, Portugal; susana.neto@tecnico.ulisboa pt

Nuria Hernández-Mora
Fundación Nueva Cultura del Agua, Spain; nhernandezmora@fnca.eu

Leandro del Moral
Fundación Nueva Cultura del Agua and Department of Human Geography, Universidad de Sevilla, Spain; lmoral@us.es

Francesc La Roca
Fundación Nueva Cultura del Agua, Spain; froca@uv.es

ABSTRACT: The process of drafting, approving and implementing the Water Framework Directive (WFD) has played a pivotal role in the water-related political agenda of the Iberian Peninsula. The WFD has provided an institutional impetus for a shift from the dominant hydraulic paradigm towards a new water governance approach. The new approach, known as the New Water Culture (NWC), predated the WFD. It was initiated in Spain and Portugal in the 1990s and has been promoted by a coalition of academics, social activists, and water managers. Given the long tradition and relevance of water debates in Spain and Portugal, the sociopolitical and territorial conflicts surrounding the implementation of the new regulatory framework are of particular significance. Legal debates about the (in)correct transposition of the WFD into Spanish and Portuguese legislation are still unresolved. Legal debates about the (in)correct transposition of the WFD into Spanish and Portuguese legislation are still unresolved. Controversies focus on issues such as the use of economic instruments, for instance cost recovery and the use of public subsidies (a key component of the hydraulic paradigm), as well as the role of public participation in decision making processes. Significant resistance has been mounted by the traditional water policy community, which continues to dominate power structures surrounding water. Throughout the long WFD implementation process, conflicting views and interests have consistently emerged with regard to the diagnosis and identification of existing pressures and the definition, evaluation and implementation of the proposed measures. Controversies have also emerged around the extensive use of exceptions which has allowed the hydraulic paradigm to persist over time. Progress towards the promised governance model, however, is taking place, with significant improvements in transparency, more accurate knowledge regarding the aquatic ecosystems services and the inclusion in water management agencies of more diverse experts including social scientists, biologists and geologists. This paper looks at the role the WFD implementation process is playing in the struggle for the transformation of water policy in Spain and Portugal. It examines this through the lens of the NWC movement.

KEYWORDS: WFD implementation, New Water Culture, Spain, Portugal, water governance, controversial transition