Abstract

Many parts of Europe are facing an increased risk of water scarcity and a potentially disastrous impact on freshwater ecosystems. In line with the Water Framework Directive and the 2006 Water Act, France developed the Sustainable Withdrawals Reform (SWR) in 2008, which aimed to restore a balance between the available water resources and people's needs across the country by 2017. While the literature has generally focused on the economics of e-flow policy instruments, few studies have analysed the politics of their implementation at the local level or how local interests and strategies influence the process. Inspired by the political sociology of policy instruments, and based on in-depth case studies in two catchments of the Durance River Basin (in southeast France), we argue that in order to achieve e-flows in such catchments, the SWR eventually encouraged new capital-intensive water transfers. Beyond their technical aspects, these infrastructure projects engender new hydro-social configurations by modifying irrigation technology and agricultural practices, as well as the spatial control of water. The impact of these projects on the environment remains uncertain. The discussion focuses on the role of key intermediaries and shows how the framing of negotiations leads certain stakeholders and issues to be excluded from the implementation process.

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