22 Jan 2013

An expensive groundwater governance failure

GS sent me this report on groundwater abuse in Spain [pdf]. (It reminds me of Kern County Water Bank shenanigans in California). Here's the executive summary:

"Using satellite images, we have analyzed how water rights were sold in the Upper Guadiana Basin, where the “Las Tablas de Daimiel” National Park is located, inside the PEAG (Plan Especial Alto Guadiana), that aimed at recovering the aquifer with different measures, one of which was the bank. 13,3 Mm3 of water rights were, in theory, bought. But we found out that most (83%, equivalent to 11,3 Mm3) of the water rights were not being used on the 5 years before the sale (against current ruling –- that states water has to be used on the 3 years previous to the sale -- and common sense)-that is what we call “paper rights” not real rights-, some continued to be used after the rights where sold (almost half of that 17% that was being used before the sale, equivalent to 0,9 Mm3 out of the 2 Mm3 that were actually being used), and even rights were bought from fields that belong to the hydraulic public domain (corresponding to 212 ha). To make things worse, 95% of the water rights bought were located outside the priority area stated in the PEAG plan.

In addition, it was intended that 70% of the water rights bought would be used to ensure that water remains in the aquifer, to contribute to its recovery, and 30% would be used to legalize illegal boreholes. Reality was that, due to the pressures from the Regional Government of Castilla-La Mancha, all of the water rights (real or paper) are committed to legalize illegal boreholes, and legalization process has already started. On top of that, the Regional Government got an extra 1,5 Mm3 for legalizations, “invented” water that does not exist, since the aquifer is heavily overexploited and, despite the miraculously recovery thanks to the heavy rains in 2010, it is still missing 800Mm3 to be in good quantitative status. That fact puts in risk protected areas (Tablas de Daimiel National Park, mentioned above, Lagunas de Ruidera, Ojos del Guadiana…) and also the water supply to many villages in the area, that used to get the water from the aquifer but that see how some of their boreholes are running dry in dry years, and many of them have such a high level of nitrates they should not be used for drinking (nitrates concentration comes from the intensive agriculture being irrigated with the illegal boreholes, and gets worse when the levels of the water table drop).

What the water bank has done, we conclude, is to consolidate water rights and increase the pressure on the aquifer, as well as the vulnerability of the area to climate change. And that has been done with 66 millions of Euros of public money."


Joan said...

Thanks for posting this. It is indeed amazing, and illustrates how easy it is to trick the numbers of what should be just relatively simple water accounting. I work on water management and irrigation here in Spain, and overexplotation is very common, indeed. Poor management and unsustainable policies as well.

Eva Hernández -WWF said...

It is great to see our report in your blog! however, it would be even better if you could mention it was done by WWF. An NGO. Not an administration, nor a University...I think it is quite an important difference!

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