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The shifting territorialities of the Rhone River's transboundary governance : A historical analysis of the evolution of the functions, uses and spatiality of river basin governance

Publication date2013

The Rhone River has long been regarded upon its productive capacities. Shared between two Nation-States, Switzerland and France, the River has been a major development factor for the two countries and the regions situated along its banks. The Swiss part of the Rhone is characterised by the great diversity of its uses. It flows from the Rhone glacier through the agriculture plains of Valais, into the Lake Geneva and then through the city of Geneva. The River has always produced numerous goods and services. It is mainly used for agriculture in its upper part and for hydropower production in Geneva where management of the Rhone is delegated to a semi-public company, the SIG (Services Industriels de Genève). The River has long been canalised and its natural flow massively modified. On the French side, since the 1933, the CNR (Compagnie Nationale du Rhone) is in charge of the river management from the Swiss border to the Mediterranean Sea. The company has three missions: hydropower production, navigation and irrigation. Later on, in a post-war context, the French central State canalised the River considering the Rhone first of all as an industrial tool of Nation's reconstruction (Pritchard, 2011). This phase greatly modified the state of the River with the construction of 19 infrastructures of hydropower production. The emergence of new water management perspectives (IWRM for example), the implementation of the water framework directive and the increase of environmental legislations and concerns modified the very nature of the Rhone. If, on both sides of the border, the management of the river has been partly delegated to hydropower companies, public stakeholders tend to look for new ways of managing the river basin. Thoughts emerge to reconsider the scale of governance of the river and its actors' configuration. This communication concerns the current debates and shift in the management of the Rhone river. It aims to show the issues related to a River when its flow is essentially governed through Hydropower companies. It shows what are the constraints of shifting from a sectorial and industrial management of the river to a more integrated water governance perspective. It analyses how the integration of a basin management could be achieved in a River mainly governed by private arrangements, between hydropower companies, benefiting from strong use rights. Our communication has several objectives. Firstly, we analyse the existing management arrangements of the Rhone River. We look at the actors' configuration and try to understand the rivalries emerging among the different uses of the Rhone, focusing on the central function of hydropower companies and their multiple scales of intervention. Secondly, we concentrate ourselves on the actual new phase of River management and look at how public actors attempt to tackle the central issue of increasing coordination at the basin scale. Finally, we discuss different questions such as which scale to adopt to achieve an IWRM in a transborder context? To what extent could it be done in an intersectoral perspective (Nahrath et al. 2009) while hydropower producers have such a central function in the regulation of the River? Should it be based on the river basin scale (Hering & Ingold, 2012) or on more flexible and multi-scalar arrangements? What kind of institutional and governance structures could match with those scale rearrangements?

  • Water governance
  • Functional regulatory space
  • IWRM
  • Rhone
  • Hydroelectricity
Citation (ISO format)
BRETHAUT, Christian, PFLIEGER, Géraldine. The shifting territorialities of the Rhone River’s transboundary governance : A historical analysis of the evolution of the functions, uses and spatiality of river basin governance. In: 7th ECPR General Conference : Pannel Who wants to be part of IWRM? The politics of scale in basins and catchment. Bordeaux (France). 2013.
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  • PID : unige:29570

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