Francesc Rodríguez (Cottbus)

Contested Water Imaginaries in Times of Hydro-Extractivism in Costa Rica

In the context of hydro-extractivist industry development in Costa Rica, a wave of applications for private concessions to build run-of-the-river dams has swept over the country during the last decade. These hydroelectric project plans have caused concern among residents adjacent to the targeted rivers to the extent that a water conflict has erupted in several communities of the southern Pacific side of the country. Using a multi-sited ethnographic approach, including a visual analysis, in this paper, I explore the resistance of local people to these plans with a focus on the contestation over the assumptions over water that are inherent in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) reports of two hydroelectric project plans. By showing the underlying water imaginaries that underpin the conflict over dam development, my paper reveals the ontological gap between institutionalized and noninstitutionalized ways of knowing (and relating to) water and rivers. Reflecting on these ontological disjunctions, I conclude that the EIA reports, and some of their technical aspects like the notion of environmental flow, have formed a 'technical orthodoxy' (or a dogma) around water that requires a rethinking of the institutionally dominant assumptions about the understanding and being of water and rivers in southern Costa Rica.