Folder Issue 1



Dam removal politics and unlikely alliances in the lower Snake River Basin

Krista Harrington
Oregon State University, Corvallis, United States of America;

Alida Cantor
Portland State University, Portland, United States of America;

ABSTRACT: Dams, once considered catalysts for economic development in the Western US, are now being targeted for removal due to their adverse ecological and social outcomes. However, dam removal often remains controversial. In the Pacific Northwest, four dams on the Lower Snake River have long been criticized for their negative impacts on salmon. In 2021, the Columbia Basin Initiative was proposed, seeking to dismantle the dams in order to simultaneously improve salmon health, redesign Idaho’s energy landscape, change transportation pathways, and protect other dams. Response to the initiative has been polarized. In this paper, we build upon political ecology and ‘unlikely alliance’ scholarship by examining the reactions to and points of tension around the initiative. We specifically focus on the viewpoints of key stakeholders who have shifted from their historically rooted alliances and views. We found that being in favour of dam removal in general was not necessarily enough to cause someone to support the Columbia Basin Initiative (and vice versa). In particular, stakeholders were split on views around legal provisions in the initiative that would limit the future utility of current environmental law. We contribute to political ecology and unlikely alliance scholarship by demonstrating that dam removal is a complex issue that can bring actors together in unanticipated ways.

KEYWORDS: Water governance, collaborative governance, unlikely alliances, salmon, dam removal, Snake River, Pacific Northwest, USA


Spring-based irrigation in Battir, Palestine: A locus of social agency in the face of hydro-hegemony

Kholoud D. Nasser
Birzeit University, Ramallah, Palestine;

ABSTRACT: This article discusses the agricultural use of springs as a socio-ecological and everyday matter in the context of structural colonial control over water. It examines how Israel’s strategies interfere with the local politics around water. It also investigates how rural communities collectively deploy agency through implementing traditional spring-based irrigation as a 'common' system, and also through ecotourism as a way of building solidarity. As a case study, the article focuses on the village of Battir, which is located on the western edge of the West Bank highlands. The paper utilises ethnographic and qualitative tools for data collection. From an interdisciplinary perspective, the study tries to bridge the theoretical and empirical approaches of water research. It brings insights from political ecology into conversation with social theories of practice. Its aim is to analyse how people exert agency and navigate their actions while immersed in a struggle to define their lives according to their needs. The analysis takes place in the context of the settler colonial condition. The article underlines the role of local practices in water resource management as a counter-hegemonic act in the face of colonial expansion and hydro-hegemony and as a bottom-up approach to enhancing local development, bringing stability to the social field, and strengthening resilience.

KEYWORDS: Hydro-hegemony, irrigation commons, agency, somoud, settler colonialism, Palestinian highlands, springs, Palestine


The role of small-scale hydraulic infrastructure in transforming hydrosocial territories in a catchment in Ceará, Brazil

Hela Gasmi
Federal University of Ceará; Research Institute for Meteorology and Water Resources (FUNCEME), Fortaleza, Brazil; Montpellier University, UMR G-Eau, CIRAD, L’Institut Agro, Montpellier, France;

Letícia de Freitas Vieira
Research Institute for Meteorology and Water Resources (FUNCEME), Fortaleza, Brazil;

Marcel Kuper
University of Montpellier, Cirad, UMR G-Eau, Montpellier, France;

Eduardo Sávio Passos Rodrigues Martins
Research Institute for Meteorology and Water Resources (FUNCEME) , Fortaleza, Brazil;

Julien Burte
University of Montpellier, Cirad, UMR G-Eau, Montpellier, France;

ABSTRACT: This paper analyses the central role of water infrastructure in the transformation of hydrosocial territories through a case study in the Forquilha catchment in Brazil’s Nordeste. Decentralised state-led infrastructural development reinforced the resilience of communities to drought, leading to more sustainable water access by many families; this was further magnified through individual and collective initiatives. However, this entailed the overdevelopment of small-scale hydraulic infrastructure and the formation of small community-based hydrosocial territories, which changed water flows and social relations at different scales. We show how this has led to the loss of hydraulic connectivity and the fragmentation of the catchment and how it has weakened collective action vis-à-vis the state. The state staged a remarkable interventionist comeback in the catchment by connecting medium-sized reservoirs in the upstream part of the catchment to urban water supply networks. In the absence of negotiated water reallocation, this may lead to the loss of water and livelihoods by vulnerable groups.

KEYWORDS: Fragmentation, dispossession, resilience, hydrosocial territories, Nordeste, Brazil


More collectives, less differences: Unveiling unexpected social changes in a groundwater economy in the Middle Atlas, Morocco

Zakia Kchikech
Moulay Ismail University, Meknes, Morocco;

Zhour Bouzidi
Moulay Ismail University, Meknes, Morocco;

Nicolas Faysse
G-Eau Research Unit, CIRAD, University of Montpellier, France; University of Carthage, National Agronomic Institute of Tunisia (INAT);

ABSTRACT: Access to the groundwater economy has frequently enabled an economic boom but is also believed to increase inequalities between farmers. The present study analyses social changes in a rural community as it entered and evolved in a groundwater economy, and today increasingly has to cope with groundwater depletion. The case study was conducted in the Middle Atlas region of Morocco, where marked social, economic and political differences habitually separated ethnic fractions. Farmers created several collectives to access groundwater resources and support the marketing of newly irrigated crops. Thanks to this new groundwater economy, the social and economic positions of previously marginalised fractions caught up with those of the historically favoured fractions. The basis on which farmers’ collectives were organised had evolved and crossed lines between ethnic fractions. The social configurations at local level, which are often considered to influence agrarian change and actors’ relations concerning water resources, actually evolve with them. These configurations have a major influence on the dynamics of farmers’ collectives. Therefore, paying attention to evolving social configurations at local level is important if the aim is to involve farmers’ collectives in the search for governance models to achieve sustainable groundwater use.

KEYWORDS: Collective action, groundwater economy, inequalities, social configurations, Morocco


Freedoms ebb and flow: Boaters’ experiences of water and sanitation insecurity on the inland waterways of England and Wales

Ruth Sylvester
University of Leeds, School of Civil Engineering, Leeds, UK;

Helen Underhill
Newcastle University, School of Architecture, Planning & Landscape, Newcastle, UK;

ABSTRACT: This article explores how boat dwellers on the inland waterways of England and Wales – 'Boaters' – experience water and sanitation services. Boating populations are not counted as customers of private water utilities, so they exist within the 'dwelling paradox' and are positioned at greater risk of water and sanitation insecurity. Interviews and auto-ethnography document a myriad of ways in which participants use these resources on different vessels and waterways. The Capability Approach emerges as an apt framework for representing nuanced journeys from water and sanitation access to perceived quality of life. Findings suggest that equitable services can be defined as those which enable Boaters to live in ways they value. This entails reckoning with diverse – and potentially divergent – definitions of a 'good life', supported by the personal freedoms to achieve it. We argue this research makes a strong case for centring lived experiences in service design, particularly in instances of disagreement on the constitution of adequate service levels. Co-creating knowledge with people living in the dwelling paradox reveals complex relationships with authority and exclusion. We extend this theory, and the principles of equitable service delivery, to emphasise the situated desires, choices, and freedoms of the populations in question.

KEYWORDS: Water and sanitation, dwelling paradox, Capability Approach, health, wellbeing, canals, rivers, itinerant dwelling, household water insecurity, United Kingdom


Analysing the evolution of water governance models in Indonesia through the Economies of Worth framework

Héloïse Valette
LISST, Université Toulouse 2 Jean Jaurès, Toulouse, France;

ABSTRACT: The water governance model that currently dominates at the international level is based on the principles of the Dublin Conference (1992), one of which asserts that water is an economic good. Faced with growing environmental issues as well as increased demand for recognition of water as a human right or as a common good, this model is being contested both in international arenas and at national or local levels. This article aims to examine the justification discourses used by actors who either challenge or reinforce the dominant model. The focus is on water qualification issues, which we argue have a significant impact on policymaking and the renewal of water governance models. We employ the Economies of Worth framework (Boltanski and Thévenot, 1991) not only to decipher which values actors resort to when qualifying water – as a human right, an economic good, or a social good, for example – but also to understand the reasons why one qualification prevails over others in water-related debates. We examine these debates in the Indonesian context, where many disputes arising from water qualification have occurred, the 'tests of worth' in Boltanski and Thévenot’s framework. Using a qualitative methodology, we conducted semi-structured interviews and reviewed legislation and operational documents to explore three such tests of worth. Our case study reveals the persistence of the governance model that promotes water as an economic good, despite extensive debate and new regulations that may have strengthened a model based on the qualification of water as a human right.

KEYWORDS: Water qualification, Economies of Worth, water governance model, justification, discourse, Indonesia


A street view of groundwater policymaking and management in Azraq, Jordan

Hoor Al-Amin
IHE Delft Institute for Water Education, Amman, Jordan;

Jaap Evers
Water Governance Department, IHE Delft – Institute for Water Education, Delft, The Netherlands;

Leon M. Hermans
Land and Water Management Department, IHE Delft; and Faculty of Technology, Policy and Management, Delft University of Technology, Delft, the Netherlands, /

ABSTRACT: Groundwater management is a complex task that includes a multitude of actors. It is even more complicated in water scarce countries with less well-established formal water governance structures. In these settings, local government officers have been recognised for their essential role in groundwater management. Often, their role is described as problematic, with officers being under-resourced, under-motivated and, at times, corrupt. In this paper we zoom in on these street-level bureaucrats in Azraq, one of the most depleted groundwater basins in Jordan. Based on inputs from officers, farmers, and sector experts, we collate and analyse information on how the settings in which local officers work influence their day-to-day implementation of policies. We observe that officers in Azraq are heavily influenced by the context in which they operate. This context is characterised by the physical scarcity of groundwater, the formal policy setting, and the presence of the shadow state. The context shapes local officers’ relationships with farmers, their own personal beliefs and subjectivities, and their capacity and resources. As a result, their divergent actions arguably become the groundwater management policy. Based on these findings, we argue that a deeper understanding is needed of the underlying factors and drivers that shape local groundwater management if we are to arrive at better groundwater policy for a more sustainable future.

KEYWORDS: Groundwater management, street-level bureaucrats, policymaking, shadow state, Jordan


Water factories of the high Colombian mountains: Páramo as 'infrastructural nature'

Santiago Martínez Medina
Universidad el Bosque, Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Bogotá, Colombia;

Hanne Cottyn
History Department, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium;

Ana María Garrido
University of Florida, Gainesville, USA;

Joshua Kirshner
Department of Environment and Geography, University of York, York, UK;

Rory O’Bryen
Faculty of Modern & Medieval Languages & Linguistics, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK;

ABSTRACT: Páramo is a term imported from Spain to the northern Andes to refer to uninhabited, barren, mountainous areas. This notion has, in more recent times, acquired new meanings. Today, the páramo is known as a high mountain tropical ecosystem of strategic importance to carbon storage, water provision, and biodiversity. In Colombia, the páramos located around Bogotá have been central in the emergence and consolidation of conceptualisations of the páramo as a strategic ecosystem. In close relation to their importance for the country’s first large-scale water infrastructures to supply urbanizing populations, they are today imagined as fábricas de agua, or 'water factories'. In this article, we propose the notion of 'double support' to capture the coordinated work between water intake from the páramo and environmental conservation of the páramo as a situated articulation of the concept of 'infrastructural nature'. We trace the emergence of the páramo as infrastructural nature through two partly overlapping trajectories of what we define as 'infrastructuralisation', the first driven by the work of water engineers, the second materialising in the work of natural scientists. While these trajectories do not exhaust the complex historical process that gives rise to the “páramo as we know it today”, they do allow us to grasp contemporary understandings of the páramo as a “marriage of convenience”, whose stability should not be taken for granted.

KEYWORDS: páramo, infrastructure, water, nature conservation, Colombia


Beyond anthropocentrism: Water law and environmental management in the Yellowstone River Basin, USA

Nicolas T. Bergmann
Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, Washington State University, Pullman, USA,; and Department of Natural Resources and Society, University of Idaho, Moscow, USA;

ABSTRACT: Recent cross-fertilisation among the fields of critical legal geography, political ecology and environmental ethics has created opportunities to examine new legal designations for more-than-human entities such as rivers. In particular, theorisations of how more-than-human assemblages ontologically co-constitute the law challenge interpretations of legal structures as purely human creations and encourage scholars to examine manifestations of non-anthropocentrism, which is defined here as an ethical position that elevates non-humans’ moral standing to that of humans. This article adopts an historical case study approach to examine an environmental conflict that occurred in the 1970s involving non-anthropocentrism and Montana water law. Specifically, this article draws from critical legal geography’s understanding of the law and the environment as being co-constituted to argue that both elements of a non-anthropocentric environmental ethic and the influence of Yellowstone River as a more-than-human entity shaped Montana Fish and Game’s position during the Yellowstone River Basin water reservation process. This article further argues that the combination of these influences affected legal interpretation of the 1973 Montana Water Use Act’s 'minimum stream flow' text and helped reconstitute the Act to include non-anthropocentric elements.

KEYWORDS: Legal geography, political ecology, water governance, more-than-human geography, environmental ethics, Yellowstone River, USA