Water and the real economy: a perspective from the River Segura BasinMiguel A. Ródenas
Miguel A. Ródenas. President of the River Segura Hydrographic Confederation
Intensive irrigation and scenarios of water scarcity
It is often the case that areas with better climactic conditions (hours of light, absence of frost, and so on) for irrigated fruit and vegetable cultivation are not the best endowed in terms of water resources. This is the case in the Segura Hydrographic Demarcation, a true paradigm of water scarcity, which has the lowest rainfall in the entire Continental European Union and in which there is also an intensive use of water for irrigation, comprising 83% of the demands on this resource.
Due to its favourable natural conditions, a formidable irrigation culture has prepared throughout the Segura basin. It manifests itself through a technological development that not only includes the systems of vegetal production, logistics and commercialization but also includes very well prepared structures and hydraulic works. The Segura Basin is an irrigation power; despite having only 4% of the total population and land area of Spain, it accounts for 30% of the national production of fruits and vegetables, about 5 million tons/year and about 4,700 million Euros per year in the world market, mainly in Europe.
In some respects water, mainly considered as a natural water medium or the supply of populations of developed countries like Spain, is usually assumed that it is not part of the general economic system, understood as the use for the production of goods. So, apart from a few exceptions mainly of an industrial type, water economically is not an important input to the global economy.
The strict economic impact of water supply on the agricultural economy of irrigation can account for 5% of activity, in very rough average global terms. However, water is an indispensable element (raw material) for economic activity and this aspect of the guarantee in the availability of water is the one that supposes a greater economic relevance. A modern, high added value agriculture, as is the case of the Segura basin, requires compliance with sales commitments in difficult markets and therefore needs a guarantee of water availability, not only in quantity but also in quality. We can conclude that the greatest weakness of this economic system of irrigation in the Southeast of Spain is not in the strict economics of water, which has a relatively small impact, has little margin and can be attributed to specific users, but rather in guaranteeing its availability. This is the great challenge of the future.
Water governance tools
Accordingly, if the objective is to improve the economic situation of the sector which has the highest water consumption (in the case of the Segura about 1500 hm3/year) we should act on the guarantee in the availability of water.