Book Review – Watershed Politics and Climate Change in Peru, by Astrid B. Stensrud. Pluto Press, 2021

In this ethnographic account, Astrid B. Stensrud explores the ways in which water is perceived and used. Based on 13 months of ethnographic work between 2011 and 2014, the book provides a vivid description of how social practices, legal frameworks, and the changing weather due to climate change and insecure water supplies influence the pluralities of understandings and practices linked to water. The book adds to the corpus of scholarly work that recognizes the ontological pluralism of water (Perreault et al., 2018) and contributes to the debates on water justice.
The ethnographic work took place in a critical period: during Peru’s implementation and adaptation of a new regulatory framework on water management, in line with the neoliberal policy adopted by the Peruvian water sector since 2000 (Harris & Roa-García, 2013). The first pilot for a river basin council implemented through the 2009 Water Law was initiated in the very region where the study took place (Arequipa), in the neighbouring watershed of Quilca-Chili. Arequipa is also a region where there are ongoing, long-lasting social conflicts over water sources (as the case of Tia Maria (Dunlap, 2019)) and a region that has litigated at the higher courts to prioritize scarce water sources in irrigation projects to expand agro-business in the desert (Majes Siguas) (La República, 2012; Ruíz, 2011).
Throughout the duration of the study, there was debate on the right to water at the national level (which the book omits). Between 2000 (the return to democracy) and 2011 there were no constitutional amendment proposals concerning the right to water. However, between 2011 and 2012, all political parties with representation in the national Congress issued bills for constitutional amendments (seven in total). But all the bills contained a limited understanding of water rights and linked the right to drinkable water to other fundamental rights. The rights mostly referenced were the rights to health and life. In 2017, Peru passed constitutional reform Article 7-A recognizing the fundamental right to water.

Within this context of regulatory changes, which also consolidated a neoliberal approach to water management, Stensrud’s book, organized into seven well-structured chapters, provides an informed analysis of the changes in the social relations in the Colca-Majes watershed, offering a detailed report on the multiple dimensions of these relations. While recognizing the transformation and resistance produced by the 2009 Water Law and the water management structures generated by the law, Stensrud’s ethnographic work shows that in these transformations climate change is also playing a role. Yet, Stensrud goes beyond describing the inhabitants of Arequipa’s perceptions of climate change (Bowling et al., 2021) and water stress, accounting for how this phenomenon is already shaping social relations and the relationship between the watershed inhabitants, the mountains and the springs, as well as the water authorities.


Bowling, L. C., Mazer, K. E., Bocardo-Delgado, E., Frankenberger, J. R., Pinto, J., Popovici, R., & Prokopy, L. S. (2021). Addressing Water Resources and Environmental Quality Programming Needs in Arequipa, Peru. Journal of Contemporary Water Research & Education, 173(1), 1–12.

Dunlap, A. (2019). ‘Agro sí, mina NO!’ the Tía Maria Copper Mine, State Terrorism and Social War by Every Means in the Tambo Valley, Peru. Political Geography, 71, 10–25.

Harris, L. M., & Roa-García, M. C. (2013). Recent Waves of Water Governance: Constitutional Reform and Resistance to Neoliberalization in Latin America (1990–2012). Geoforum, 50, 20–30.

La República. (2012). En Arequipa alistan paro contra el Gobierno por proyecto Majes Siguas II. La República. Retrieved 14 August 2012, from:

Perreault, T., Boelens, R., & Vos, J. (2018). Introduction: Re-Politizing Water Allocation. In T. Perreault, R. Boelens & J. Vos (Eds.), Water Justice. Cambridge University Press.

Ruíz, J. C. (2011). El mundo al revés en el caso Majes Siguas II: proteger derechos constitucionales puede acarrear sanciones. Justicia Viva. Retrieved 11 April 2011, from:

Leave a Reply