Central Irrigation Board of La Mancha Oriental: monitoring irrigation water consumption using satellite images

The Central Irrigation Board of La Mancha Oriental

The Júcar river flows through the territory of the autonomous communities of Castilla-La Mancha and Valencia, in the east of Spain.

In Eastern-La Mancha, the Central Irrigation Board of La Mancha Oriental (JCRMO) is mandated by the Júcar River Basin Authority to represent the interests of irrigators in the large aquifer “Mancha Oriental”, covering around 10.000 km2. The JCRMO ensures the sustainable management of the water resources -including groundwater- for irrigation and other purposes.

The challenge

Like the majority of semi-arid Mediterranean basins, the Júcar River Basin is often subject to drought and floods, making the balance between water supply and demand very fragile. In Eastern-La Mancha 40 years of increasing water demand for irrigation caused a drop in groundwater levels, threatening the conservation of the water resource of the aquifer. The JCRMO and the River Basin Authority were hence looking for cooperative solutions to regulate and to monitor water use sustainably.

“Member States shall implement the necessary measures to prevent deterioration of the status of all bodies of surface water (…)” EU Water Framework Directive 2000/60/EC

The solution

In order to facilitate efficient water monitoring, since 1998, the JCRMO, the Júcar River Basin Authority, the regional Government and the University of Castilla La Mancha, agreed to use information derived from satellite imagery to map the spatial distribution of land covers and uses in order to build a Geographic Information System. Moreover, since 2010, the JCRMO has been using time series of satellite images [12-14 images per year] provided by the EU GMES-funded project SIRIUS, to map and estimate irrigation water needs of cultivated plots according to precipitations, atmospheric demand and irrigation methods

The result

Satellite information is used to assign water abstraction rights to farmers, according to crops and field’s extension, and to monitor the enforcement of the Exploitation Plan of the Aquifer. Enforcement of the AEP is in fact key to ensure sustainability. Moreover, a web-GIS provides farmers with routine reports on irrigation needs. Thanks to these results, historical water rights were assigned on 95% of the territory, discouraging new non-authorised cultivations and allowing a recovery of groundwater levels in the last three humid years.

The classification process to identify irrigated areas based on satellite imagery has been recognised as evidence by the Spanish Supreme Court in 2012.

“The system based on satellite data allows for a more efficient use of this important resource, while enhancing transparency and participation.” Francisco Belmonte, President of the JCRMO.