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Agua para todos: A new regionalist hydraulic paradigm in Spain

Elena Lopez-Gunn
Universidad Complutense, Madrid, Spain and London School of Economics and Political Science, London, UK;

ABSTRACT: This paper reviews the hydraulic paradigm in Spain and its evolution over the last 100 years to the current decentralisation process of "agua para todos", i.e. where different regional governments vie for control over 'scarce' water resources and defining the concept of hydro-solidarity between regions. Recent events seem to point to a new hydraulic bureaucracy at the sub-national level due to the political devolution currently taking place in Spain, where water has an increased political value in electoral terms. Water has strategic importance in single-issue politics and territorial identity, as compared to traditional left/right ideologic cleavage politics for both national and regional parties in the Spanish multilevel electoral system. This refers to an aspect -€“ openly discussed in Spain but rarely analysed - the 'political returns' on water (or 'political rent-seeking'). This also points to spatial dimensions of the definition of state, identity, and access to resources in a semiarid country. This historical process of decentralisation of water is highlighted with particular reference to key events in recent Spanish history, including the Hydraulic Plan of the 1930s, its reappearance in the 1993 National Hydrological Plan, a revised version in the year 2001, and a final change in paradigm in 2005 at the national level. This suggests that the hydraulic paradigm is re-enacted at the regional government level. Thus it is argued that a multi-scalar analysis of Spanish water decentralisation is essential in order to understand change and stasis in public policy paradigms related to water.

KEYWORDS: Hydraulic paradigm, territory and identity, water politics, interbasin transfers, Spain