Transboundary waters are a great challenge to water governance in a context framed by the `sanctioned discourse` (Allan, 2001) of water crisis (e.g. Gleick, 1993; Camdessus et. al., 2005 ) and predictions of increasing disputes over water resources in the future (Wolf, 1998; Giordano et. all. 2002). This situation is sharpened by the great importance of surface water basins shared by two or more countries, which cover almost half earth`s land surface and provide water for around 40 per cent world population (Wolf, 1998; UN-Water, 2008; Earle et. all., 2010). In South America, a continent with three of the largest transnational river basins in the world, in area, flow and stream length: Amazon, Orinoco and La Plata (del Castillo, 2011); water security issues does not seem so acute as they are in other regions of the world, where water availability is already an urgent matter, like Middle East and North Africa (Allan, 2001). Nevertheless, in South America processes such as agricultural frontier expansion, urban population increasing and climate variability upraise the questions about water in the continent (Tucci, 2004).
In this paper we aim to analyse how the changing geographical processes occurring in La Plata basin entail changes in the scale of water governance in La Plata basin. Our hypothesis is that, until the last decades of XXth century, when the main goals of national governments in La Plata basin were develop industrialization and strength national power in the South America -- mainly represented by the antagonism between Brazil and Argentina -- hydropolitics in the region were concerned with La Plata basin -- here termed as transnational basin; however, with the increasing interest with environmental issues and the raising discourses about water crisis, the hydropolitics in La Plata basin rescaled to transboundary water basins.
Theoretically, our analysis about the rescaling of water governance depart from an extensive debate in human geography about the social/political production of scale, with focus in produced scales for water governance (Swyngedouw, 1999; Ghiotti, 2006; Norman and Bakker, 2009; Budds and Hinojosa, 2012). On this debate one of the main accomplishments was the conclusion that any scalar choice are neutral or immune to political biases. Despite the water basin is stated as a natural, therefore, proper scale to water governance and management, this scale is a political choice, derived from a conception of who should control the water and which way it should be done (Molle, 2006; Warner et. all. 2008; Molle and Wester, 2009).
Methodologically, interviews with stakeholders were taken to address the main changes in La Plata hydropolitics and analysis to transboundary water basins projects been held within the two case studies were made to evaluate the rescaling of water governance in La Plata basin countries during the last years.
Results and discussion
To assess the rescaling process in La Plata basin hydropolitics we will evaluate two case studies in La Plata transboundary sub-basins: Apa, in Brazil/Paraguay border; and Quarai, in Brazil/Uruguay border. This two case studies could be related with La Plata basin treaty, signed in 1969, encompassing all the riparian countries (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay), because this agreement established the basis for water resources management and created the intergovernmental agency responsible for integration projects in the region (Comite Intergubernamental Coordinador, CIC Plata) (Elhance, 1999; del Castillo, 2011; Pochat, 2011; Biswas, 2011).
The previous discussions to the La Plata basin treaty were based on the context of increasing necessity for hydropower and improvements in navigational transports in South American countries, due to industrial and agricultural expansion; growing political tensions between these two countries, mainly in Brazil and Argentina, the regional main power players; and demarcation boundary skirmishes. Therefore, the agreement established, focused in navigation and in hydropower uses was a beginning to find a settlement to these issues (Candeas, 2010; Pochat, 2011).
During the 1980 and 1990, the challenges to water governance in South America were changing at a slow pace, issues like the regional vulnerability to climate change and environmental degradation were introduced in the agenda. This agenda points have led to initiate cooperation in transboundary basins, gathered most times by actors situated in local scales. The case studies here addressed have been developed by the recognition of challenges in water access, distributions and management.
The Apa basin, with just 18.000 km2, but located in an important transition zone between three South American natural regions (i.e. Cerrado, Pantanal and the calcareous formations of Bodoquena), have been submitted to an increasing in cattle creation and sugar-cane crops, which raises the rates of soil erosion and aware some municipal leaderships in both countries and international NGOs (Broch, 2008). The main accomplishment, up to the moment, was the realization of the zoning and environmental studies in the basin area, funded by the EU and the Spanish NGO Paz y Desarrollo, that supported the decision to establish natural reserves in the basin area (GIAPA, 2013).
The Quarai river basin, in southern Brazil border, had been subjected to political cooperative initiatives due to the disputes over water uses, between rice farming and municipal uses, and between Brazilians and Uruguayans. The southern region is often exposed to severe drought seasons, what makes the rice producers dispute water with other users (Calhman, 2008).
Both cases were formalized by national governments through binational agreements over water transboundary basins uses. At the same time, the CIC Plata has been focusing your actions in La Plata`s sub-basins, therefore, changing its former concern from the transnational La Plata, to the transboundary sub-basins.
The new issues raising in South American hydropolitics have been creating a different way to frame the water governance. Previously, water governance addressed as a national issue, used to fulfil the state agenda would be conceived in a transnational water basin. More recently, the discourses about water crisis around the world and increasing concerns about environmental changes have been changing the scale used to evaluate hydropolitics in the region; the concept of water basin still prevailing, but the water basin now framed is closer to border dwellers and their uses. The Apa and Quarai basins are examples of how transboundary water basins have been applied to water governance in South America. 1. Allan, T. (2001) The Middle East Water Question: Hydropolitics and the Global Economy. London and New York: I.B. Tauris.
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