Programme OS5a Managing water under
Managing water in the Segura basin: conflicts around gated communities in
Author(s): Anna Zimmer
Keyword(s): water management, gated communities, conflicts, Segura
Session: OS5a Managing water under
Managing water in the Segura basin: conflicts around gated
communities in Murcia
Dipl.-Geogr. Anna Zimmer
University of Bonn
Meckenheimer Allee 166
of presentation: oral
Abstract for the Regional Session on the Mediterranean Basin (Water Availability, Use and
The Segura basin in South-east Spain is characterised by massive over-use of its water
resources. To secure water availability, the region which receives about 300 mm of precipitation per year, relies on
an Inter-Basin-Transfer from the Tajo basin and seawater desalination is being propagated. Nevertheless,
groundwater resources are being depleted, desertification risk is high and the river ecosystem is near to collapse with
merely 4% of its original runoff reaching the mouth.
In this situation of a deeply technologised water cycle and
ecological crisis, the introduction of new water uses for irrigation of gated communities priding themselves with first-
class golf courses is provoking conflicts between different sections of the society as well as between different levels
of the state administration.
The objective of the paper consists in analysing these conflicts. Relevant actors will
be characterised to dissect their influence on the Murcian waterscape and to show who bears the costs of the new
The paper is based on fieldwork conducted during the year 2006. Investigations were based on
interviews and supported by literature interpretation including law texts, NGO reports and letters, Environmental
Impact Assessments and the local press.
Several areas of conflict have arisen in the Segura basin concerning
water. Next to the obvious question of how to allocate water between different uses, illegal water use is common
and loudly accused. Moreover, conflict is dominated by largely different definitions of what water is: Is it a means of
production, set to make social systems run? Is it part of an ecosystem whose protection should be first priority?
Water management paradigms are based on broader societal aims, such as economic development or the search for
ecologically compatible forms of production and consumption. The question that underlies all conflicts therefore is,
whether water politics should be based on a modernistic paradigm of heavy human influence on the waterscape
(including new transfers from the Ebro-basin which are still hoped for by some) or rather embrace newer concepts
of respecting ecological boundaries.
While the national government tries to introduce stronger control on
construction developments and is supported by basin-wide NGOs, local and regional administrations are reluctant to
let go of a development model that they regard as an opportunity to diversify the mainly agricultural economy of the
The waterscape is thus shaped within a broad setting of political negotiations and struggles for power over
more than just a natural resource. For now, gated communities are being built at vertiginous speed. The sustainability
of the model, however, is deeply questionable under the perspective of climate change. At the moment, short sighted
profits seem to prevail about long-term solutions.