Water resources in Spain are currently under severe pressure across the different sectors (agriculture, supply to the people, energy production, industry, tourism and the environment). There is great competition amongst regions for water, which is even affecting the development of some regions. This competition is expected to become stiffer as a result of a reduction in available water resources caused by climate change.


All of this is causing some sectors of public opinion to question the current role of irrigation agriculture, which is the greatest consumer of water. There are calls to increase the ecological flows of rivers and reduce the pressure on water masses. In this respect, it must be emphasised that the Spanish irrigation sector has been firmly committed to sustainability and efficiency for many years. The objective is to make irrigation fully compatible with the environment, and guarantee good quantitative and qualitative status of both surface water and groundwater.

For this reason, the sector is basing its management on the modernisation of irrigation systems, the promotion of research and the incorporation of new technologies. According to Joaquín Rodríguez, “the upgrading of irrigation systems is becoming an integrated strategic response in the area of water, soil and biodiversity in order to achieve a balance between
the sustainable intensification of quality food production and adaptation to climate change”.

The result of this, according to the Spanish National Statistics Institute, is that the use of water in agriculture fell from 17,083 cubic hectometres in 2002 to 14,948 in 2016, meaning that the consumption of water in irrigation decreased by 14% during this period. Meanwhile, in the same period, the surface area irrigated increased by 9%. According to the Crop Surfaces and Yields Survey (Encuesta de Superficies y Rendimientos de Cultivos – ESYRCE), Spain had an irrigated land surface area of 3,733,695 hectares in 2017, accounting for 22% of all cultivated land. 1.79
million hectares of this surface area has been modernised. Since the year 2000, there has been total investment of 3,815 million euro in the upgrading of irrigation systems, of which the irrigation communities have contributed 1,172 million euro.

Mariano Soto Garcia

Mariano Soto García
Coordinator of the Transfer and Sustainability Chair José Manuel Claver Valderas.

Published in: Nº63 FuturENVIRO September 2019