The author conducts a critical review of the literature on water, in terms of its relationship to social relations and environmental justice. The author illustrates these theories through the case of water pollution in Bolivia’s Huanuni Valley resulting from mining activity, along with its social and environmental effects.
The author’s analysis of water and hydrosocial relations reveals that water and its management must be understood in the context of its social history and political character. He argues that water reflects and produces relationships of uneven social power. The author also analyzes the literature on water governance, with particular attention to spatial scale. The author argues that the decision on the scale of action for a water governance policy is not politically neutral: many policymakers choose to focus on the watershed level. To correct the scalar assumptions common in water governance policies, the author argues that the notion of the “waterscape”, or the view of water as a socio-natural entity, would better account for the relationship between water and society. In his review of the concept of equity in water governance, the author points out that the typical association of the concept with distributional impacts, such as access to water and exposure to pollution, does not account for the historical processes of social exclusion. The author also challenges the concept of the human right to water by suggesting that it has the potential to contradict the collective rights to water of some indigenous groups.
The author concludes the analysis by applying the concept of hydrosocial relations to the case of water pollution in Bolivia’s Huanuni Valley. He argues that while the formal law for water rights is progressive in Bolivia, water access favors the powerful and privileged in practice. To overcome this situation, the author suggests a greater focus on environmental justice and ecological governance that views water and society as natural, social, and political.