Networked water citizen organisations in Spain: Potential for transformation of existing power structures in water management

Nuria Hernández-Mora
Department of Human Geography, University of Seville; Seville, Spain; nhernandezmora@us.es

Violeta Cabello
Department of Human Geography, University of Seville; Seville, Spain; vcabello@us.es

Lucia de Stefano
Department of Geodynamics, Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Madrid, Spain; lstefano@ucm.es

Leandro del Moral
Department of Human Geography, University of Seville; Seville, Spain; lmoral@us.es

Abstract: The shift from hierarchical-administrative water management toward more transparent, multi-level and participated governance approaches has brought about a shifting geography of players, scales of action, and means of influencing decisions and outcomes. In Spain, where the hydraulic paradigm has dominated since the early 1920s, participation in decisions over water has traditionally been limited to a closed water policy community, made up of economic water users, primarily irrigator associations and hydropower generators, civil engineering corps and large public works companies. The river basin planning process under the Water Framework Directive of the European Union presented a promise of transformation, giving access to non-economic water users, environmental concerns and the wider public to water-related information on planning and decision-making. This process coincided with the consolidation of the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) by the water administration, with the associated potential for information and data generation and dissemination. ICTs are also increasingly used by citizen groups and other interested parties as a way to communicate, network and challenge existing paradigms and official discourses over water, in the broader context of the emergence of “technopolitics”. This paper investigates if and in what way ICTs may be providing new avenues for participated water resources management and contributing to alter the dominating power balance. We critically analyse several examples where networking possibilities provided by ICTs have enabled the articulation of interest groups and social agents that have, with different degrees of success, questioned the existing hegemonic view over water. The critical review of these cases sheds light on the opportunities and limitations of ICTs, and their relation with traditional modes of social mobilisation in creating new means of societal involvement in water governance.

Keywords: ICTs, water governance, social networks, public participation, power, Spain