Groundwater ownership and markets

Until the 1985 Water Act came into force, groundwater in Spain was private domain. In contrast, surface water was almost always public domain, ruled by government agencies. Because of the real or imagined problems related to the uncontrolled development of groundwater, the 1985 Water Act declared all r\3 r\3

Year

Fig. 13.3. Consumption development of groundwater in Spain, showing a rapid increase from the 1960s to date. (From MIMAM, 2000.)

Year

Fig. 13.3. Consumption development of groundwater in Spain, showing a rapid increase from the 1960s to date. (From MIMAM, 2000.)

Table 13.1. Spain's groundwater use summary (estimated from several sources). (From Llamas et al., 2001.)

Volume applied (million Percentage of total water

Activity cubic metres per year) (surface + groundwater)

Urban 1,000-15,000 ~20

Irrigation 4,000-5,000 ~25

Industrial and cooling 300-400 ~5

Total 5,500-6,500 15-20

groundwater in Spain as public domain. Every new groundwater abstraction requires a permit granted by the corresponding water authority.

The groundwater developments made before 1 January 1986 may continue as private domain, using the same amount of groundwater as before. All these wells, galleries and springs should be inventoried and registered within the basin agencies registries. The main problem is that the legislators and the water authorities underestimated the number of groundwater abstractions and did not provide the economic means to register all the grandfathered groundwater rights. Even

c ra

5 pe ra 25

1 15

3 10

Countries

Fig. 13.4. Number of dams per capita in different countries. (From Llamas et al., 2001.)

Countries

Fig. 13.4. Number of dams per capita in different countries. (From Llamas et al., 2001.)

20 years after the enactment of the 1985 Water Act the number of private groundwater abstraction rights remains uncertain as do, by extension, the pumped volumes. Llamas et al. (2001, ch. 8) have estimated that the number of water wells in Spain is between one and two million. This means there are between 2 and 4 wells/km2; however, this ratio is three times higher if it is applied only to the surface of the 400 aquifer systems. The average groundwater withdrawal from each well is low (between 2500 and 5000 m3/year), indicating that most are meant for domestic use or small irrigation. The 1985 Water Act states that a permit is not necessary to drill a new well for abstracting less than 7000 m3/year. Probably 90% of the private groundwater developments have an illegal or alegal status. In order to cope with this complex situation, in 1995 the government began a programme (called ARICA) with a cost of €60 million to have a reliable inventory of the water rights in Spain. The results of the ARICA programme were discouraging and it was practically abandoned. In 2002 the government began another similar programme (this time called ALBERCA) with a budget of €150 million. Detailed information on the progress of the ALBERCA programme is not available yet. However, according to Fornés et al. (2005) a larger budget would be necessary to clarify in full the inventory of groundwater rights.

On top of these disappointing results, and prompted to increase the economic efficiency of both surface and groundwaters, the 1985 Water Act was partly amended in 1999, mainly to introduce water markets in some way. This was mainly done to allow greater flexibility to sell or buy water rights. In principle, this new flexibility is not relevant to groundwater markets because in Spain most groundwater resources are still in private ownership and they could be sold or bought and leased like any other private asset. The importance of these groundwater markets varies according to the different Spanish regions. In most cases, these are informal (or illegal) markets and the information on them is not reliable (Hernández-Mora and Llamas, 2001). The Canary Islands are an exception to this general situation. This autonomous region of

Year

Fig. 13.5. Temporal dam construction rhythm in several representative countries. (From Llamas et al., 2001.)

Year

Fig. 13.5. Temporal dam construction rhythm in several representative countries. (From Llamas et al., 2001.)

Spain has a different water code. Almost 90% of the total water uses are supplied by groundwater. Practically all groundwater is in private ownership. Aguilera Klink (2002) has studied the pros and cons of the water markets in this archipelago. Other than this, the 1999 amendment has not produced any substantial water reallocation, even under the 2005 pre-drought conditions prevailing in the country.

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