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Managing water in the Segura basin: conflicts around gated communities in Murcia

Congress: 2008
Author(s): Anna Zimmer

Keyword(s): water management, gated communities, conflicts, Segura basin, waterscape
AbstractManaging water in the Segura basin: conflicts around gated communities in Murcia Dipl.-Geogr. Anna Zimmer Doctoral student University of Bonn Department of Geography Meckenheimer Allee 166 53115 Bonn Germany Prefered mode of presentation: oral Abstract for the Regional Session on the Mediterranean Basin (Water Availability, Use and Management): The Segura basin in South-east Spain is characterised by massive over-use of its water resources. To secure water availability, the region which receives about 300 mm of precipitation per year, relies on an Inter-Basin-Transfer from the Tajo basin and seawater desalination is being propagated. Nevertheless, groundwater resources are being depleted, desertification risk is high and the river ecosystem is near to collapse with merely 4% of its original runoff reaching the mouth. In this situation of a deeply technologised water cycle and ecological crisis, the introduction of new water uses for irrigation of gated communities priding themselves with first- class golf courses is provoking conflicts between different sections of the society as well as between different levels of the state administration. The objective of the paper consists in analysing these conflicts. Relevant actors will be characterised to dissect their influence on the Murcian waterscape and to show who bears the costs of the new developments. The paper is based on fieldwork conducted during the year 2006. Investigations were based on interviews and supported by literature interpretation including law texts, NGO reports and letters, Environmental Impact Assessments and the local press. Several areas of conflict have arisen in the Segura basin concerning water. Next to the obvious question of how to allocate water between different uses, illegal water use is common and loudly accused. Moreover, conflict is dominated by largely different definitions of what water is: Is it a means of production, set to make social systems run? Is it part of an ecosystem whose protection should be first priority? Water management paradigms are based on broader societal aims, such as economic development or the search for ecologically compatible forms of production and consumption. The question that underlies all conflicts therefore is, whether water politics should be based on a modernistic paradigm of heavy human influence on the waterscape (including new transfers from the Ebro-basin which are still hoped for by some) or rather embrace newer concepts of respecting ecological boundaries. While the national government tries to introduce stronger control on construction developments and is supported by basin-wide NGOs, local and regional administrations are reluctant to let go of a development model that they regard as an opportunity to diversify the mainly agricultural economy of the region. The waterscape is thus shaped within a broad setting of political negotiations and struggles for power over more than just a natural resource. For now, gated communities are being built at vertiginous speed. The sustainability of the model, however, is deeply questionable under the perspective of climate change. At the moment, short sighted profits seem to prevail about long-term solutions.
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