chapter  4
20 Pages

Institutional reform in Spain to address water challenges

WithE. López-Gunn, E. Cabrera, E. Custodio, R. Huertas & F. Villarroya

Spain is a quasi-federal country, with 500,000 km2 for a population of 46 million inhabitants, a mean rainfall of about 670 mm/year, which disguises a wide difference between the so called wet North, more akin to countries like France, UK or Central Europe, and the dry Spain in the interior, with a harsh continental weather, and the Mediterranean coast and the archipelagos, where much of the population is concentrated. Water resources are evaluated at 114,0001 hm3 of which 47,000 hm3 are used (level of abstractions) [hm3 = cubic hectometre = million m3 = 106 m3]. In a context of institutional reform Spain is well positioned to deal with its inherent climate uncertainty and variability, and where the greatest challenge and opportunity is how to play with the advantages and disadvantages of different types of water resources (surface, ground, soil, artificially recharged, reclaimed, and desalinated) and where their complementarities can be bolstered through flexible management, which permits a portfolio of actions. In terms of water management Spain (together with the USA) pioneered the catchment management approach in the last century. The creation of the Ebro river basin authority, in 1926, was followed by 10 river basin organisations (RBOs), as well as two island water administrations for the Balearic and the Canary archipelagos (Custodio, 2011a), covering the whole of the country. In addition, in 1958, Water Commissariats were established. The final stage has been the adaptation of these existing institutions to the Estado de las Autonomías (State with Autonomous Governments) (Cabrera & García Serra, 1998) hereinafter designed as Regions. The Spanish Constitution established that water had to be managed at State level for the inter-community basins (those shared by two or more regions), whereas for intraregional basins (i.e. those located within a single region) water is managed through the creation of regional water agencies. River basin organizations are the executive arm of the central administration, through the Directorate General for Water (DG Water), located in the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Environment (MAGRAMA),

where RBOs are responsible for inter-sectorial allocation, water quantity and quality monitoring and enforcement, the authorization of water and discharge permits and water pricing for e.g. agriculture. Similar organizations with the same responsibilities exist in the intra-regional basins.