The Water Management established nowadays in the Basque Region is the result of years of planning and regulation development at European, National and Regional level.
The Regulation for the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country approved by the Law 3/1979 specifies that it is responsibility of the Autonomous Community within their territory the exclusive competency of the water management, canals and irrigation, when the water bodies flow entirely within the Basque Region as well as the public works without the legal characterisation of general interest or works whose construction does not affect other territories. The transfer of competencies from the National Government to the regional Government was determined by Royal Decrees RD 1551/1994 and Royal Decree 297/1994.
Since then many challenges have been faced up to by the public administration as well as the private sector, in order to turn upside down the way water was perceived and managed. The supply side approach (where uptakes of as much water as demanded was prioritised, no matter the impact it could create) and other approaches that see water as a mere exchangeable resource have been progressively pulled over. Nowadays, water is deemed to play a vital role in the ecosystem, so water uptakes and discharges due to water use should not damage ecological state of masses of water.
Water priorities in the region
When it comes to water policy, Basque Country’s main goals are to prevent further deterioration, to protect and to enhance the status of water resources; to promote sustainable water use; to enhance protection and improvement of the aquatic environment, through specific measures for the progressive reduction of discharges; to ensure the progressive reduction of pollution of groundwater and prevent its further pollution; and to contribute to mitigating the effects of floods and droughts.
To sum up, making headway towards ‘good ecological quality status’ for all water bodies, based upon the biological (phytoplankton, macroalgae, benthos and fish), hydromorphological and physico-chemical quality elements, with the biological elements is especially important.
One of the key goals is the protection of the Water Public Domain water banks. Since the initial role of the former Water Department of the Basque Government, the department had the responsibility to apply methods to assure this protection by means of controlling activities and the potential impact on the water resources. To this end, it turns very significant to carry out activities in order to protect the water domain, prevent discharges, and permit award for water users as well as for water discharges amongst other actions. The aim is to prevent any worsening of the ecological state of waterbodies due to intakes, discharges or land use close to waterbodies.
Additionally, on the basis that up to 75% of water intakes from waterbodies are used for urban demands, well-managed water supply is crucial. Water supply is a municipal responsibility that requires to go hand in hand with the development of services and infrastructures derived from the water planning and regional and local demands.
Involvement in the EU
What cannot be omitted is the publication of the Water Framework Directive (WFD) in 2000 (Directive 2000/60/CE) which defined a European Framework for the water policies based on a complete revision of the water planning process. The WFD defined a substantial change of European regulation in water issues as the main objective relies on the prevention of the water quality and the improvement of the status of water ecosystems and promotion of sustainable use of water. It goes without saying that these guidelines are fully biding Basque policy on Water management.
The main driver of the Directive is based on the river basin planning, in which there is a need to harmonise the demands and needs of different sectors without compromising the environmental status. Likewise, Flooding risk management directive should be regarded as an equally preeminent normative landmark aimed to reshape the way land is used whereas natural flooding of rivers is taken into account and avoidable potential morphological impacts on water bodies are averted. That’s what the water management in Basque Country together with the wide range of stakeholders concerned and the normative tool-kit on display are wholeheartedly heading for.
In that sense, the Basque Water Agency URA (depending on the Basque Autonomous Government) is the competent authority on water planning and the implementation of the WFD for the inner river basins in the Basque Region (formerly it was the Water Department of the Basque Government). Therefore, URA has the responsibility to coordinate the actions to guarantee the water demand and ecological status of the water bodies.
Link with RTD&Innovation
A deeply intertwined network of stakeholders having a say in water management has been settled in the Basque Country. It is led by ACLIMA Basque Autonomous Community’s cluster association that brings together companies in the Eco-industry sector. One of the workings groups created within this Cluster is the so-called “Public Water management Entities of the Basque Country” gathering institutions that work together to address the current water management difficulties by improving innovation in water services designed to achieve more efficient management and reduce impacts of water services on waterbodies.
Water actors in Basque Country
- Basque Water Agency –URA is the competent authority on water planning and the implementation of the WFD for the inner river basins in the Basque Region (formerly it was the Water Department of the Basque Government). Therefore, URA has the responsibility to coordinate the actions to guarantee the water demand and ecological status of the water bodies.
- The water supply and sanitation is responsibility of the municipalities at local level. In the Basque Region this local responsibility has developed into territorial models at supramunicipal level in order to maximise the management and assure the effectiveness of the constructed distribution and wastewater networks
- This management model is completed by the role of provincial government (Diputaciones). Although these publicly elected governments have decision making independence at territorial level, they have the obligation to acknowledge the criteria and recommendations of the regional Basque Government. In terms of the roles in water issues, these territorial governments could classify which infrastructures have special interest of the territory, and it could cover accordingly the financial cost of the constructions works of the water supply and wastewater treatment infrastructures.
Needless to say, the coordination and cooperation between the Basque Government and the local agencies turns crucial to guarantee water supply and sanitation to the standards required by each particular water use.
- But not only regulatory elements are important in the improvement of the water resources and uses. Over the last two decades a new concept has been introduced whose effectiveness has been demonstrated at local level. This concept and tool has been the Agenda 21 procedure. The implementation of the AG21 guidelines has introduced a new methodology that enables the public participation on local governance and services. In the Basque region, a network of municipalities was set up in order to enhance the relationship between municipalities and share tools and information development within the AG21 protocols (network named UDALSAREA).