T8: THE GOVERNANCE OF WATER TENURE: PILOT CASE STUDY IN SPAIN
THE GOVERNANCE OF WATER TENURE:
PILOT CASE STUDY IN SPAIN
What is Water Tenure?
Formal definition says that Water Tenure is “is the relationship, whether legally or customarily defined,
among people, as individuals or groups, with respect to water resources”.
A Water Tenure approach allows a comprehensive and rigorous inter-disciplinary examination of water
uses, rights and relationships in terms of what they actually are rather than simply what laws or policies
say that it should be.
Water tenure shares goals with Integrated Water Resources Management: water and food security
through adaptive management. However, it sticks to realities on the ground as cornerstones to build a
more effective governance. In an informal context, it could de defined as a “bottom-up” IWRM.
‘Photo’ vs. ‘Video’
Water Tenure & Water Accounting
Using a very straightforward metaphor: topbottom approaches for water governance tend to
assimilate water tenure to a formal frame, so
water managers can actually see just a picture on
water rights and existing entitlements.
On the ground analysis shows that users envision
water tenure as something dynamic and subject
to several pressures, so they can see water tenure
as a video, where there are a lot of constant
interactions. This is why flexibility has been a
major requirement by water users contacted
along the development of the case study.
An adequate implementation of a water tenure
analysis into water governance would help to
avoid problems related to a lack of participation
by users, a lack of fairness and legitimacy in
users’ representation or those caused by political
For this to be effective, water tenure analysis
should come along with a wide consensus upon
reliable and updated water accounting data.
Education and transparency are key drivers to this
“Water Tenure exists,… we just haven´t talked about it.” (S. Hodgson – FAO expert in water rights)
Water tenure as a diagnostic tool
A common fact when asking water managers about their opinion on water tenure is that they tend to
think that there is an equivalence between ‘water tenure’ and concepts such as ‘water rights’ or
‘property of water’. However, water users (defined as people who “work” the water) do naturally
consider water tenure as something different. Water users quickly understand that there is a mismatch
between legal frame and existing reality on the ground.
The analysis performed upon water tenure concept aims to start by characterizing this reality, and it has
shown a lot of potential as a diagnostic tool. The water tenure approach has proved to be especially
useful to shed light upon existing problems and identify feasible improvements in water governance.
Examples from Spain Case Study
Analysis of water savings produced by a modernization of an irrigation scheme
A case study has been performed upon Riaza river, whose irrigation area has just gone through a process of
irrigation modernization and review of water concessions. A further interest is provided by the inclusion
within the area of a regulation dam with a hydroelectric power plant and a protected area, where River
custody is being undertaken by an environmentalist NGO. The modernization project aims for a higher
efficiency in the water application, switching from gravity systems based on open canalizations to drip and
sprinkle irrigation supported on pressurized conductions.
As a first step, water demands and rights before and after the modernization have been characterized.
Distribution of irrigated crops has been estimated through remote sensing by the analysis of time-series of
images acquired before and after the modernization. The integration with agronomic data and ancillary data
provided by farmers and Water Authority has allowed
to estimate water consumption before and after
modernization, and to compare these data with
hydrologic records and water rights.
The analysis of modernization has been largely
enriched by direct contact with users, providing
valuable information to characterize full-spectrum of
malfunctions of this management measure.
Irrigated summer crops
Allocation of water resources in an area severely affected by scarcity
Intensive use of Mancha Occidental aquifer has created a situation of over-exploitation of groundwater
resources that has led to serious social and environmental impacts. Falling piezometric levels led to main
problems and security threats to farmers and to a significant loss of groundwater-dependent ecosystems. Las
Tablas de Daimiel National Park represents the most dramatic and best documented case of wetland
degradation in the area, becoming almost completely dry in particularly dry summers due to disconnection
between groundwater levels from springs areas. Since the aquifer was officially declared as overexploited in
1987, it can be stated that this area has been one of the most widely studied across Europe as an example of
conflicts into the allocation of water resources.
The analysis based on an integrated approach combining detailed water accounting and improved knowledge
of actual situation on water tenure has proved really successful to analyze the core causes of problem and
imbalance between water use and demands. The analysis has focused on one hand, on the use of remote
sensing to provide accurate water consumption data and on the other hand, on the realization of 7 thematic
workshops and several elite-interviews to produce key qualitative information.
As a result of the integration of both data sources, some key outputs are: the estimation on the uncertainty of
available official data on water consumption in agriculture, the analysis of inconsistencies between water
tenure and water use and finally, the interdisciplinary examination of water uses, rights and relationships to
produce a full diagnosis of actual situation in the governance of water resources. Results show alternatives
for a better governance according to benchmark criteria of security, equity and sustainability.
ICATALIST is a research and open-innovation consulting firm operating
from Madrid (Spain). Staff and collaborators are mainly Post-Doctoral
researchers with a high expertise background in water, agriculture and
environment, who aim to “catalyse people and knowledge for positive
CONTACT: Dr. Elena López-Gunn