In this article, we examine how social movement activists draw on the hydrosocial dynamics of the watershed unit to build a river protection network in resistance to extractivist development. We apply a critically engaged activist anthropological focus, and drawing on four years of collaborative fieldwork, we describe how activists formed a hydrosocial movement to reconfigure Chile as an interconnected territory of living watersheds. In 2014, the Patagonia Without Dams movement successfully stopped the development of a mega-dam complex in Chilean Patagonia, catalyzing a major upheaval in environmental politics. The Free-Flowing Rivers Network harnessed momentum from Patagonia Without Dams and jumped scales from place-based campaigns that defend singular rivers against dams to translocal actions that protect watersheds from an array of extractive industries. We show how this movement bridged rural and urban conflict zones, seeking to protect watersheds from forms of extractivism beyond dams, including mining and irrigation projects. By focusing on the Free-Flowing River Network’s efforts to translate its political-ecological platform into policy, we show how hydrosocial territories may be established, defended, expanded, and stabilized through strategies that explicitly connect water and society.

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