Title

PARTICIPATION OR CONFORMITY: PERUVIAN WATER GOVERNANCE, LAW, AND THE FAILED ATTEMPT TO ESTABLISH A RIVER BASIN COUNCIL

Date of Award

December 2017

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Geography

Advisor(s)

Tom Perreault

Second Advisor

Rebecca Schewe

Keywords

legal pluralism, marginalization, participation, Peruvian water law, river basin councils, water governance

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences

Abstract

Following in line with water governance paradigms, Peru has adopted an integrated water resources management (IWRM) framework into its water law, lauded as overcoming the deficiencies to earlier water regimes, by embracing decentralization, incorporating participatory elements into water governance and management, and recognizing the economic value of water. Coming to life as the 2009 Water Resources Law 29338, river basin councils were introduced as decentralized governance mechanisms to broaden participation for marginalized water users. The river basin councils hold the potential to afford a political space for indigenous and peasant communities to sit at the same table as powerful sectors, such as agriculture and mining and share in the decision-making process over how water is to be governed.

While this thesis sought to understand this potential, looking at the failed attempt to establish a river basin council between Huancavelica and Ica, inclusivity of marginalized water users hinges upon two factors. The first relates to the socio-economic tensions between the coastal and highland regions. Taking a historical perspective of Peruvian water law, an agricultural bias fueled by concentrated power of coastal elites has influenced water law, and this continues to hold true in the 2009 Water Resources Law. Drawing on modernity and scarcity discourses, coastal elites have leveraged power to secure access and control of water situated in the highlands in the past and continue to pursue highland waters as a source to feed water-intensive export crops. Second, elements of the Water Resources Law impose a narrow definition of water and insist on the adoption of new behaviors for water users. Geared toward the promotion of “efficiency” that dovetails with neoliberal precepts, the Water Resources Law promotes licensure, measurability, and a “water culture” aimed at altering the perceptions of water users’ valuation of water. In Peru’s legal plural context, this is problematic, as it delegitimizes a diverse range of legal practices, uses, and values of water that are tailored to specific ecological and social contexts. While decentralization and participation are promoted in the Water Resources Law, river basin councils, the institution meant to embody those concepts, are without real decision-making power because power is not truly decentralized. I argue that the law, in fact, allows for state encroachment into the lives of water users. I further argue that historically, the Peruvian water law has been influenced by the coastal agricultural sector, fueled conflict, and holds implications for the concentration of power over control and access of water for elites and the creation of water insecurity for marginalized water users.

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