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Deconstructing The Discourse Of State-led Water Grabs: The Case Of The Ebro

Congress: 2015
Author(s): Ed Atkins (Bristol, UK)


Keyword(s): Sub-theme 10: Management of water resources,
AbstractAdopting an approach of political ecology, this paper shall explore the power structures and discourse surrounding the planned Ebro River transfer in Spain by analysing the official government rhetoric surrounding the diversion. In this scheme, conceptions of the greater good and the promise of development were regularly adopted to provide a discursive legitimacy to the questionable reallocation of water and its benefits from one region to the other. In adopting such discourse, policy-makers sought to raise the project above the realm of contemporary politics and allow for the alienation of the opposition and their arguments. Although such efforts were ultimately unsuccessful, these processes signify the presence of a new Gramscian common sense in perceptions of water and the planned transfer, with water enjoying an important role within the frameworks of power of regional Spanish politics.

The creation of such narratives provide important evidence of the use of discourse to alter the packaging of large-scale hydraulic projects and to veil their environmental and social impacts. Consequentially this paper makes an important contribution to wider scholarship through conclusions of how state-led water grabs can be recast and approved via discourse. Whilst private entities can act freely, national governments are often forced to utilise rhetoric to create a public acceptance of the redesign of hydrology. The contemporary growth imperative has ensured that many nations have engaged in these processes of autocratic redesign as a means to continue economic development in the centres of growth and in doing so have neglected the importance of local access and needs of the community. It is integral to understand how such projects are packaged and presented to the populace; as it is in this process that such projects are bestowed with legitimacy.

In the case of the Ebro River transfer, the developmentalist message of transfer equals growth was particularly evident, with repeated promises that the scheme would create "a better Spain, a more cohesive Spain, a Spain where Spaniards have more opportunities and will have a better future." However, such an assumption was misguided and resulted in the scheme representing not just the reallocation of water but the transfer of development and economic and political power from the donor regions to the receiving regions of Valencia, Murcia and Andalucía in the south -- where much of the water would have been used for irrigation. The scheme proved controversial, due to the scheme appearing to be a manifestation of Robin Hood, in reverse -- with the economic benefits of the Ebro being transferred from the stagnating north to the growing south of the country. Such a characteristic, coupled with the ecological consequences of the scheme, resulted in the formation of an opposition movement that successfully fought the plans. Thus, a disconnect between official rhetoric and the environmental and human consequences of the plan is found. This paper shall demonstrate how the presentation of such discourse was conducted as a form of knowledge-construction, allowing the government to pursue a scheme of pork-barrel politics and benefits transfer masquerading as being for the greater good of all. 1. Arrojo, P. (2008). Spanish National Hydrological Plan: Reasons for its Failure and Arguments for the Future. Water International(38), 295-302.

2. Bone, A. (2003). Reasons for the Autonomous Community of Aragon's Position Against the Ebro Transfer as Envisaged in the National Hydrological Plan. International Journal of Water Resources Development, 19(3), 413-435.

3. Getches, D. (2003). Spain's Ebro River Transfers: Test Case for Water Policy in the European Union. International Journal of Water Resources Development, 19(3), 501-512.

4. Gramsci, A. (1998 [1973]). Prison Notebooks: Selections. London: Lawrence & Wishart Ltd.

5. Swyngedouw, E. (2009). The Political Economy and Political Ecology of the Hydro-Social Cycle. Journal of Contemporary Water Research & Educations, 142, 56-60.

6. Tortajada, C. (2006). Water Transfer from the Ebro River. Case Study for the 2006 HDR, UN.

7. Wittfogel, K. (1957). Oriental Despotism: A Comparative Study of Total Power. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

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