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Water governance in arid mountains: between reproducibility and sustainability

Congress: 2008
Author(s): Pablo Alvarez, Yveline Poncet, Hector Fabian Reyes
ALVAREZ Pablo, hydro-agronomist, University of La Serena, Chile Campus Limari, Universidad de La Serena Avenida La Paz n° 1108, Ovalle – IV° Region, Chile tél. 56 53 62 97 98 fax 56 53 62 53 33 PONCET Yveline, geographer, IRD O

Keyword(s): water and resources, water management and governance, irrigation, arid zone, public-private relations, Chile, emerging countries
AbstractIn the semi- arid mountains of Chile, the current privatisation of an irrigation dam brings us to consider a range of various approaches to good water management. As scientists, our research upon and for sustainable development, is focused on the social outlook which receives lesser attention (Dubois et Mahieu 2002, in Martin éd. « Développement Durable? », IRD). The junction between two main outlines, i.e. the social aspect of sustainable development, and the relation between public and private decision, leads us to the historic study of the critical episodes of water management for agricultural production in the valley of the river Limari (the Coquimbo region in Chile). These episodes are analysed not as events (a date, a before and an afterwards) but as phenomena with a time length, data, actors, processes, consequences. Three recent episodes catch our attention: - the displacement of the rights to land tenure and water use, as a result of an artificial lake, - the 1993-1996 drought - the privatisation of La Paloma dam, initiated in 2004, and the modifications of some water laws initiated in 1981. These three episodes illustrate the water management in a watershed for high added value irrigated farming, and are the support which questions the bibliography on water management evolution in other environments and state policies. Our hypothesis is that the Limari case presents some noticeable specificity: aridity and slope (water and energy), hyper-liberal economic policy (global market laws), legal and hydrologic sharing of an exhaustible resource (between abundance and shortage), separation of the land rights from the water rights (technical rationality). Is this combination of factors exceptional or is it common elsewhere in the world? Are they efficient and easy to imitate with the same (spectacular but perhaps fragile) results in the neighbouring watersheds? Are the bonds / relationships between the three types of actors- i.e. the state, private producers and organizations for water sharing- really sustainable? What are their strongest fulcrums to preserve a social ability for water management? A comparison between prospects will allow us to locate the complicated Chilean governance into the wide range of water managements in arid environments, i.e. into the artificial and dependant farming. In the present global change approach referred to by the XIII° International Congress of Water, we take place in the global social and economic field / topic and more particularly we suggest topics 4, 5, 6, 7 or 8, the 6th « Water conservation and demand management » appearing the most relevant to us.
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