UBC Faculty Research and Publications

The Legal Geographies of Water Claims: Seawater Desalination in Mining Regions in Chile Campero, Cecilia; Harris, Leila


The use of desalination has been increasing in recent years. Although this is not a new technology, its use often proceeds within ill-defined and ambiguous legal, institutional, economic and political frameworks. This article addresses these considerations for the case of Chile, and offers an evaluation of legal ambiguities regarding differences between desalinated water and other freshwater sources and associated consequences. This discussion reviews court records and legal documents of two companies operating desalination plants, both of which have simultaneous rights granted for underground water exploitation: the water supply company in the Antofagasta Region and Candelaria mining company in the Atacama Region. The analysis shows that issues of ambiguity and gaps in the legal system have been exploited in ways that allow these entities to continue the use and consumption of mountain water. They do so by producing desalinated water, and by entering into water transfer and diversion contracts with the mining sector. These findings highlight the importance of undefined socio-legal terrain in terms of shifting hydro-geographies of mining territories, contributing conceptually to critical geographies of desalination, delineating the importance of legal geographies important for water governance, as well as empirically documenting the significance of this case to consider shifts for the mining sector and water technologies and uses in contemporary Chile.

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