Sustainability Science

, Volume 10, Issue 3, pp 463–477 | Cite as

An ecosystem service approach to understand conflicts on river flows: local views on the Ter River (Catalonia)

  • Dídac Jorda-Capdevila
  • Beatriz Rodríguez-Labajos
Original Article


Claims for a global agenda addressing the need to protect environmental flows are increasing. In the context of frequent conflicts related to unsustainable exploitation of rivers, instream flow policies may result in very different outcomes and involve different beneficiaries. We propose and test an innovative local knowledge-based methodology that uses the ecosystem services approach to disentangle the links within the river-society system. In particular, network analysis is employed to identify potential tradeoffs caused by the river flow management. Our empirical evidence relies on a thorough scrutiny of key stakeholders’ positions in the Ter River basin (Catalonia, Spain). As in other Northern Mediterranean contexts, multiple weirs interrupt the water flow in the upper course, diverting water for hydropower. Meanwhile, in the middle course, the bulk of water flow is transferred to the metropolitan Barcelona contributing to water scarcity in the Lower Ter, where farmers and other users claim against imposed restrictions on access to water flows. Our results point out that (1) in contexts such as the analyzed one, the ‘ecosystem services’ (ES) notion enhances communication among stakeholders; (2) ground-up exercises are essential for identifying river benefits at local scale and characterizing the related ES; and (3) network analysis helps to make explicit tradeoffs between river uses, in which recognition is crucial to understand how conflicts on river flows emerge and how can be managed, (4) management of instream flows should be informed by the complex interaction, herein outlined, between hydrological alterations, components of river ecosystems and the benefits they provide.


Ecosystem services Environmental flows Rivers Stakeholders’ involvement Sustainable water management Tradeoffs 



This work has been funded by the project CSO2010-21979 from the Spanish National Program for Basic Research. B. Rodriguez-Labajos also acknowledges funding from the FP7 EU project EJOLT (G.A. 266642). Our gratitude to Carla Romeu-Dalmau and Joan Martinez-Alier for useful comments.

Supplementary material

11625_2014_286_MOESM1_ESM.docx (25 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 25 kb)
11625_2014_286_MOESM2_ESM.docx (101 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (DOCX 100 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Japan 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dídac Jorda-Capdevila
    • 1
  • Beatriz Rodríguez-Labajos
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute for Environmental Science and Technology (ICTA)Universitat Autònoma de BarcelonaBarcelonaSpain

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