Alpine rivers as society's lifelines

The Drôme is a submediterranean torrential river characterized by substantial floods and drying up, and by its braised configuration. The catchment area, mainly rural, is covering 1 670 km² for 51 200 inhabitants. Following the agricultural decline of the 70’s, local communities bet on specific cultures (maize seeds, aromatic plants, organic cultures) together with tourism. The river was intensively exploited for its gravels and water resources and still becomes a real environmental concerns.

In 1997, the Drôme river was already the French pilot for the “SAGE” (Water development and management scheme), dealing with various issues, all balancing river ecosystem protection and economic development (touristic, agricultural, urbanization).

In the past decades (1997-2007), the SAGE was allowed to deal with various issues concerning mainly local authorities and business (1- water resource saving and sharing between irrigation, drinking water and river ecosystems; 2- riverbed incision; 3- water quality recovering). But, the emerging issues of river management target inhabitants (1- water quantity saving and sharing; 2- drinking water management (quantity and quality); 3- touristic uses of the river and ecosystem conservation; 4- restoration of channel mobility and ecological continuity of the river).

The local “SAGE” has to be updated, and pilot case study will assess how the range of participation could be extended outside the “CLE” (local water parliament who writes the SAGE) up to all inhabitants of the catchment. It would lead to an experimental but fully inclusive participatory approach of the ”SAGE” design process, concerning various topical issues (participatory definition of problems and solutions are part of the process).

With SPARE, we expect a design of river planning more adapted to local issues, better understood and acknowledged for by stakeholders. We aim at enhancing the local problem solving capacity, tuning to local knowledge and practices, and better managing conflicts in the long term.

Ultimately, social transformation may improve the protection of river ecosystems, with reduced public intervention.