Law, Scarcity, and Social Movements: Water governance in Chile´s Maipo River basin, Masters thesis

Publicado en University of Arizona ,School of Geography and Development 

Borgias, S.L.

Año de publicación 2016

The University of Arizona



Proyecto CRN3056


The challenges of water governance in Chile today lie at the confluence of growing water demands, increasing climatic variability, and mounting discontent with neoliberal water policy. These these dynamics coalesce in the Maipo, Chile's most densely populated river basin and seat of the capital city, Santiago. The Maipo River sustains the growing capital city of Santiago, booming agricultural production in the Santiago valley, and hydroelectric generation from the river's swift descent from the Andes. Now, with the population of Santiago exceeding 5 million, a seventh year of drought racking central Chile, and controversial hydropower development sparking mass protests, the stakes of water governance in this critical river basin are higher than ever. Based on in-depth empirical research in the Maipo River basin, this thesis explores how processes of environmental and social change interact with Chile's internationally famous water laws to shape water governance, understood as the set of processes through which actors influence decision-making and conflict resolution related to water resources. Bringing legal geography and political ecology into conversation with water governance literature, I analyze the ways that law, social mobilization, and water scarcity are shaping water governance. In Chapter 1, I analyze the law of river sectioning and the way it influences water use and management practices throughout the Maipo River basin. Chapter 2 explores the Alto Maipo hydropower conflict in the upper basin and demonstrates the important role of social movement actors trying to shift water governance in new directions. Themes from both of these chapters converge in Chapter 3, which examines the struggle over the meaning of water scarcity in the context of increasing attention to drought and climate change. These dynamic socio-environmental processes are considered in relation to each other as integral parts of the ongoing negotiation of water governance. This research aims to insert considerations of social and environmental justice into ongoing policy debates about water governance in Chile to address the conflicts stemming from uneven access to resources and decision-making.