Speaking with the River: Embodied Encounters and Local Values of the Río Peñas Blancas in Response to Potential Hydroelectric Development in South-Pacific, Costa Rica

Carmen Alejandra Umaña-Kinitzki, 2017
Vol. 23 No. 18 ISSN 1702-3548


In Costa Rica, the state’s decision to approve the construction of two private hydropower dams along the Peñas Blancas River is being called into question by local residents and non-governmental agencies who caution against the environmental, socio-cultural, and economic implications of constructing multiple dams along a potable and highly biodiverse river system. To explore these various concerns, I conducted research with 36 primary participants (including residents, peasants, conservationists and student youth) within the Alexander Skutch Biological Corridor (ASBC) in the Pacific region of Costa Rica. The primary objective of this research was to understand how local knowledges can inform state policy—particularly with regard to how environmental impact studies are conducted and written. In addition, by considering how the river itself is assembled from organic, geophysical, material, social, discursive, and technological components, this thesis offers alternative ways of envisioning freshwater that do not adhere to the dominant representations found within current policy. The study finds that the river is indistinguishable from the components that generate its quantity and quality, indicating that the effective conservation of the river’s water is integrally tied to and dependent on the protection of the conditions and elements that generate its flow.