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Hydrosocial territories in dispute: Flows of water and power in an interbasin transfer project in Bolivia

Rígel Rocha Lopez
Andean Centre for Water Management and Use, San Simon University, Cochabamba, Bolivia; rigel.rocha@umss.edu.bo

Rutgerd Boelens
Department of Environmental Sciences, Wageningen University, The Netherlands; Centre for Latin American Research and Documentation, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands; rutgerd.boelens@wur.nl

Jeroen Vos
Department of Environmental Sciences, Wageningen University, Wageningen, The Netherlands; jeroen.vos@wur.nl

Edwin Rap
Integrated Water Systems & Governance Department, IHE-Delft, The Netherlands; edwin.rap@gmail.com

ABSTRACT: This study of the historical development of the Interbasin Irrigation Water Transfer Project Yungas de Vandiola (Proyecto de Riego Trasvase Yungas de Vandiola, PRTYV) analyses the dynamics of hydrosocial territorialisation pursued by rural communities that aim to strategically claim and create water rights. Starting with the project’s initial design proposal, this article describes the subsequent configurations of alternative hydrosocial territories at three key moments in the project’s development. During this process, groups of communities that were initially not included in the project, changed their hydro-territorial imaginaries and forged multi-scalar alliances in response to wider political and cultural developments at the national level. This altered the dominant imaginary of the legitimate hydrosocial territory for the Yungas de Vandiola irrigation project. The article concludes that interbasin water transfer projects (for irrigation) are arenas of profound hydrosocial territorialisation, as they incorporate new water sources and stakeholders with divergent territorial imaginaries and changing multi-scalar alliances.

KEYWORDS: Irrigation project, hydrosocial territories, territorial imaginaries, water rights, interbasin water transfer, power strategies, Bolivia