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Water Scarcity & Droughts In The European Union: The Special Case Of The Tajo-segura Aquaduct In Spain

Congress: 2015
Author(s): Maria Milanes Murcia (Murcia, Spain)


Keyword(s): Sub-theme 17: Climate change, impacts and adaptation,
Article:
AbstractThe European Union (EU) has established a Community framework for water protection and management. The Directive 2000/60/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 October 2000 establishes a framework for Community action in the field of water policy. "Member States must identify and analyze European waters, on the basis of individual river basin and district. They shall then adopt management plans and programmes of measures adapted to each body of water." (1) This Framework-Directive has a number of objectives, such as preventing and reducing pollution, promoting sustainable water usage, environmental protection, improving aquatic ecosystems, and mitigating the effects of floods and droughts. Its ultimate objective is to achieve "good ecological and chemical status" (2) for all Community waters by 2015. The analysis of the implementation of the Directive and the policies developed to manage each river basin can shed light on how to effectively achieve the goals proposed by the Directive. In addition, the study of regional allocation mechanisms such as aqueducts and other instruments would provide strategies to promote resilience to climate change and the impacts of drought conditions. "Climate change is expected to aggravate the existing stresses on water as changes in precipitation, combined with rising temperatures." (3) The Commission emphasizes the need for a combination of adaptation measures in water policies to address water scarcity and drought. (4)

Under the Water Framework Directive "member States shall collect and maintain information on the type and magnitude of the significant anthropogenic pressures to which the surface water bodies in each river basin district are liable to be subject, in particular estimation and identification of the impact of significant water flow regulation, including water transfer and diversion, on overall flow characteristics and water balances." (5) At the regional level this assessment is essential to guarantee the correct allocation of water among users according to their uses, especially in drought regions such as the southeast of Spain where the Tajo-Segura aqueduct provides water to one of the most arid regions in the EU. In fact, "south-eastern Spain [the Murcia and Valencia regions and eastern Andalucía] is experiencing an exceptional drought over the last 25 years." (6) These current "extreme dry" conditions have occurred on other occasions since 1990, with the result of desertification because the soil water content was drastically depleted. (7)

The Tajo-Segura aqueduct represents a solution to these "extreme dry" conditions. This aqueduct provides drinking water to over 2,500,000 people, protects natural parks, and irrigates 140,000 hectares since 1979. (8) This source of water contributes to guarantee the sustainable development (9) of the region. However, the dramatic drought in south-eastern Spain needs additional solutions to mitigate the effects of climate change in the context of the EU to ensure the sustainable development of the region. It is relevant to emphasize the concept of Sustainable Development as adopted by the European Commission in the 2009 Review of EU Sustainable Development Strategies (SDS) in July 2009. (10) The European Council also confirmed that "Sustainable development remains a fundamental objective of the European Union under the Lisbon Treaty" (11) in December 2009. (12)

The concept of Sustainable Development "stands for meeting the needs of present generations without jeopardizing the ability of future generations to meet their own needs -- in other words, a better quality of life for everyone, now and for generations to come." (13) The concept includes the integration of different sectors of the society from local to global action as well as social, economic and environmental aspects, which are all interconnected in the regional and global human progress. (14)

Agriculture is essential for the Spanish economy and the progress of the country. Water transfer related to the agro-food industry contributes a total of 2,364 million euros to the GDP. (15) In addition, agriculture promotes the development of industries connected to this sector such as transport, enginery, and phytosanitary. (16) Therefore, agricultural activities related to the Tajo-Segura aqueduct generate more than 100.000 jobs. (17) Moreover, water from the aqueduct creates over 320,000 indirect jobs contributing to the development of the country especially in an economic crisis like the current situation in Spain. (18) This development is established according to the sustainable development concept, where the Tajo-Segura aqueduct provides ecological values to society by protecting natural parks and improving the environment. (19) An example of this environmental protection is the Law 13/1987, July 17th, enacted (20) to provide water for environmental purposes through the Tajo-Segura aqueduct to the National Park Tablas de Daimiel. Since the RDL 8/1995 this Natural Park receives water from the Tajo-Segura aqueduct maintaining its ecological value.

As we can see, the Tajo-Segura aqueduct ensures the concept of Sustainable Development as it protects the environment for present and future generations while promoting the development of the region. The Tajo-Segura Aqueduct Irrigators Association (21) (Sindicato Central de Regantes del Acueducto Tajo-Segura) upholds the interests of all users of the Tajo-Segura aqueduct. (22) This association is a key factor to ensure the sustainable development of the region and to achieve adaptation measures that promote resilience to climate change. (1) Directive 2000/60/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 October 2000. Available at: http://europa.eu/legislation_summaries/agriculture/environment/l28002b_en.htm

(2) See Id.

(3) European Commission, Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions. Report on the Review of the European Water Scarcity and Droughts Policy. COM(2012) 672 final, Brussels, 14.11.2012.

(4) See Id.

(5) See Id.

(6) Exceptional drought in south-eastern Spain, Joint Research Center News, European Commission, 12 August 2014 Available at:

(7) See Id.

(8) Sindicato de Regantes del Acueducto Tajo-Segura, Un Poco de Historia. Available at: http://www.scrats.com/

(9) European Commission, Environment. Available at: The Commission provides a detail analysis of the concept of Sustainable Development.

(10) Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions - Mainstreaming sustainable development into EU policies: 2009 Review of the European Union Strategy for Sustainable Development. Available at:

(11) Council of European Union, 2009 Review of the EU Sustainable Development Strategy – President Report- 16818/09, Brussels 1 December 2009 Available at:

(12) Id.

(13) European Commission, Environment. Available at:

(14) Id.

(15) PricewaterhouseCoopers Asesores de Negocios, S.L. (PWC), Impacto Económico del trasvase Tajo-Segura, 2013.

(16) Id.

(17) Id.

(18) Id.

(19) Id.

(20) Ley 13/1987, de 17 de julio, (B.O.E. de 18 de julio).

(21) http://www.scrats.com/

(22) JOSE MANUEL CLAVER VALDERAS, Aspectos Jurídicos de la Gestión y Explotación del Trasvase Tajo-Segura. Capítulo IV in La Ordenación Jurídica del Trasvase Tajo-Segura. Fundación Instituto Euromediterráneo del Agua Julio 2008.

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