Engineering or environmentalism: Changing views of the water question in Spain

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Abstract:

La desigual distribucin de los recursos hdricos en Espaa, debido a la diversidad climtica de la Pennsula, se ha contemplado tradicionalmente como una grave limitacin al desarrollo econmico general. Desde finales del siglo XVIII se propugna una poltica de redistribucin de recursos mediante grandes obras hidrulicas, que culmin en los grandes proyectos de transferencias entre cuencas (desde el Tajo hacia el Sureste peninsular y desde el Ebro hacia Levante y Sur). Finalizando el siglo XX y desde puntos de vista ambientalistas y sociales, se critica esta poltica de oferta, desarrollando un nuevo discurso que tiene como objetivo regular la demanda de agua utilizando la planificacin territorial y aplicando criterios ambientalistas. Los discursos tericos se han trasmitido al debate poltico general de forma fragmentada y con diferentes matices, segn se trate de territorios que disponen de mayor o menor abundancia de recursos propios. La estructura del Estado espaol permite que los distintos puntos de vista se utilicen como argumentos polticos contradictorios en las distintas regiones, incluso ms all de las fronteras ideolgicas entre partidos. La inquietud social, generada tanto en los territorios que exigen ms agua como en aquellos que habran de cederla en su caso, se utiliza para robustecer el apoyo popular de unos u otros con fines electorales.

The unequal distribution of water resources in Spain, due to climatic variations in the Peninsula, has traditionally been seen as a serious limitation on economic development. Since the end of the eighteenth century the emphasis has been on a policy of redistribution of resources by means of major hydraulic infrastructure works, which culminated in the major projects for transferring water between rivers (from the Tagus to the southwest of the Peninsula and from the Ebro to the Levante and to the south). Towards the end of the twentieth century, and from an environmental and social perspective, this policy of supply has come under attack, leading to the development of a new discourse that aims to regulate the demand for water through regional planning and the application of environmental criteria. Academic debates entered the general political arena in a fragmented manner and with differing emphases in different regions, depending on the extent to which they had sufficient water resources or not. The structure of the Spanish state is such that different points of view are used in different regions to sustain contradictory political arguments, which go beyond the ideological differences between political parties. Social concern, both in the territories which demand more water and in those who have to give it away, is often used to electoral advantage in order to increase popular support for one side or the other.

Keywords: Spain; hydraulic infrastructure; hydrological imbalances; management of demand; politics of supply; water

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1386/ijis.23.2.65_1

Affiliations: University of Murcia, Spain.

Publication date: December 1, 2010

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  • The International Journal of Iberian Studies (IJIS) is the academic journal for scholars from around the world whose research focuses on contemporary Spain and Portugal from a range of disciplinary perspectives. IJIS is interested in history (20th century onwards), government and politics; foreign policy and international relations.
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