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Policies Towards a Sustainable Use of Water in Spain

Listed author(s):
  • Andrés Fuentes


Spain uses its natural water resources intensively, mostly in agriculture, thanks to a highly developed dam infrastructure. The limits for extraction of natural resources have largely been reached and climate change is expected to continue lowering natural water endowments markedly in future especially in dry areas of the country. The costs of exploiting alternative supply sources on a large scale, notably desalination and recycling, remain well above water prices paid by consumers at present. The government has recognised that water policies therefore need to switch to demand management, so as to ensure that available resources are put to most efficient and priority use. Scope for water savings is substantial, especially in agriculture, where much irrigation water generates little value-added. The government has subsidised the use of more efficient irrigation technology at considerable budgetary cost, which has contributed to a modest reduction of water use in irrigation in recent years. The participatory approach in water policy governance should be extended further to stakeholders beyond the irrigation community, to include more scientists or representatives of institutions protecting local ecosystems Low water prices, combined with the free allocation of water concessions, still hamper an efficient use of water resources. Water prices will need to rise further so as to reflect service provision costs in full as well as the scarcity and environmental costs of water abstractions. Steps to better take into account water scarcity should include the progressive inclusion of market instruments, such as the tendering of water concessions as well as the elimination of some barriers to the exchange of such concessions among users. Benchmark regulation of water utilities would contribute to more efficient water supply and treatment services. Further steps need to be taken to halt excessive groundwater abstractions, including through improved monitoring and the introduction of charges on abstractions from overexploited aquifers. Action en faveur d'une utilisation durable de l'eau en Espagne L’Espagne fait un usage intensif de ses ressources naturelles en eau, surtout en agriculture, grâce aux très nombreux barrages qu’elle a mis en place. L’extraction de ces ressources a dans une large mesure atteint ses limites, d’autant qu’elles devraient continuer de diminuer sensiblement à l’avenir sous l’effet du changement climatique, notamment dans les régions sèches du pays. Les coûts d’exploitation à grande échelle d’autres formes d’approvisionnement en eau, comme le dessalement et le recyclage de l’eau, restent bien supérieurs aux tarifs payés aujourd’hui par les consommateurs. Dans ces conditions, le gouvernement a admis la nécessité de recentrer la politique de l’eau sur la gestion de la demande, pour faire en sorte que les ressources disponibles soient affectées aux usages les plus efficients et prioritaires. Il existe d’importants gisements d’économies d’eau, en particulier dans l’agriculture où le rendement de l’eau d’irrigation est souvent faible. Le gouvernement a subventionné l’adoption de techniques d’irrigation plus efficientes, pour un coût budgétaire considérable, ce qui a contribué à une légère réduction de la consommation d’eau d’irrigation ces dernières années. L’approche participative dans la gouvernance de la politique d’eau devrait être étendue à un plus large éventail d’intervenants au delà du secteur de l’irrigation, dont les chercheurs et les représentants d’institutions qui protègent les écosystèmes locaux. Le bas niveau des prix de l’eau, conjugué à l’attribution gratuite des concessions, fait encore obstacle à une utilisation efficiente des ressources en eau. Les prix de l’eau devront encore augmenter afin de refléter pleinement les coûts de fourniture du service, ainsi que le coût de rareté et les coûts environnementaux des prélèvements d’eau. Pour une meilleure prise en compte de la rareté de l’eau, il conviendrait entre autres d’adopter progressivement des instruments économiques tels que la mise aux enchères des concessions et d’éliminer certains obstacles aux échanges de concessions entre les usagers. Une régulation par comparaison des compagnies des eaux contribuerait à accroître l’efficience des services de distribution d’eau et de traitement des eaux. De nouvelles mesures s’imposent pour mettre fin aux prélèvements souterrains excessifs, à commencer par une meilleure surveillance et l’instauration de redevances sur les prélèvements d’eau dans les aquifères surexploités.

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Paper provided by OECD Publishing in its series OECD Economics Department Working Papers with number 840.

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Date of creation: 02 Feb 2011
Handle: RePEc:oec:ecoaaa:840-en
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