Stakeholders Participation in Groundwater Management

Spain has a long tradition of collective management of common pool resources. Probably the Tribunal de las Aguas de Valencia (Water Court of Valencia) is the most famous example. This Court has been meeting at noon every Thursday for many centuries at the entrance of Cathedral of Valencia to solve all the claims among the water users of a surface irrigation system located close to Valencia. All the members of the Court are also farmers. The decisions or settlements are oral and cannot be appealed to a higher court. The system has worked and it is a clear proof that 'the tragedy of commons' is not always true. Further evidence of social cooperation in Spain is the nearly 6000 Comunidades de Regantes (Irrigation Communities of Surface Water Users Associations). Some of them have been in operation for several centuries. Currently these communities are legally considered entities of public right. They are dependent on the Ministry for the Environment and are traditionally subsidized with public funds, mainly for the maintenance of the irrigation infrastructures.

The 1985 Spanish Water Act preserved the traditional Comunidades de Regantes that existed before its enactment and recommended these institutions for surface water management. It also extended this type of collective institution to groundwater management, and required the compulsory formation of Comunidades de Usuarios de Aguas Subterráneas (Groundwater Users Communities) when an aquifer system was legally declared overexploited. A short description of these institutions is contained in Hernández-Mora and Llamas (2000).

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1975 1977 1979 1981 1983 1985 1987 1989 1991 1993 1995 1997 1999


Fig. 13.8. Water table evolution in Manzanares (Upper Guadiana catchment, Spain). (From Martínez-Cortina, 2001, as cited in Hemández-Mora et al., 2001.)

1975 1977 1979 1981 1983 1985 1987 1989 1991 1993 1995 1997 1999


Fig. 13.8. Water table evolution in Manzanares (Upper Guadiana catchment, Spain). (From Martínez-Cortina, 2001, as cited in Hemández-Mora et al., 2001.)

A more detailed description of the nature and evolution of some of these new groundwater user associations and communities can be found in López-Gunn (2003). The current situation can be summarized as follows:

1. It seems clear that the key issue for the acceptable functioning of these institutions is a bottom-up approach from the outset on the part of the governmental water authorities. This explains the almost perfect functioning of the Llobregat delta groundwater user association, which has been in operation since the 1970s under the previous 1879 Water Act. In that Water Act groundwater was legally privately owned but the corresponding Water Authority officers and the groundwater users (mainly water supply companies and industries) were able to work jointly. Something similar has occurred in the implementation of the Groundwater User Community for the eastern La Mancha aquifer located in the continental plateau. In this case, the groundwater users are mainly farmers and the irrigated surface covers about 900 km2. This aquifer has never been declared legally 'overexploited' by the corresponding Water Authority.

2. In two important aquifers the situation has been the opposite. The western La Mancha and the Campo de Montiel aquifers are also located in the continental plateau in Spain. Their total area is about 7500 km2 and their irrigated area is about 2000 km2. The Guadiana River Water Authority legally declared both aquifers overexploited in 1987, in a typical top-down and control-and-command approach. Only in 1994 the corresponding groundwater user communities were implemented. And this was only possible thanks to a generous economic subsidies plan (paid mainly by the EU) to compensate the decrease in the groundwater abstraction. Nevertheless, a good number of farmers have continued to drill illegal water wells and they are not decreasing their pump-age. On the other hand, after 10 years the economic incentives from the EU have been discontinued. The Spanish Parliament asked the Government in July 2001 to present a plan for the sustainable use of water in this area by July 2002. This requirement has not been accomplished yet by Sophocleous (2000).

As the chief engineer for groundwater resources in the Ministry for Environment stated, serious difficulties have been faced in enforcing the setting up of the groundwater users associations in the aquifers legally declared 'overexploited' (Llamas, 2003). Only 2 out of 17 groundwater user communities that have to be implemented in the corresponding legally declared 'overexploited aquifers' are operative (Hernández-Mora and Llamas, 2001; Llamas et a/., 2001, ch. 9). As recognized in the White Paper on Water in Spain (MIMAM, 2000), the main cause is that these new groundwater user communities were established top-down, i.e. the water authorities imposed their implementation without the agreement of the farmers who are the main stakeholders. The 1999 amendments to the 1985 Water Act and the 2001 Law of the National Water Plan have provisions to overcome these difficulties and to foster the implementation of institutions for collective management of aquifers with ample participation of the stakeholders under a certain control of water authorities. It is too early to assess the results of these provisions.

In Spain, in addition to the communities born under the auspices of the 1985 Water Act, there are a large number of private collective institutions or associations to manage groundwater. Only a few years ago a group of them set up the Spanish Association of Groundwater Users. This is a civil (private) association that is legally independent of the Ministry for the Environment. Despite the wide recognition of the benefits of this type of associations, it is early to ascertain whether the needed economic, tax, and operational incentives are in place.

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