Ancient water conservation methods resurface in Spain

By Sara Di Giorgio

What’s going on here?

A project in Spain is restoring ancient water channels which have been around as far back as the mediaeval times. These channels are important for dealing with drought and the increasing demand for water from intensive farming.

What does this mean?

Acequias are networks of irrigation streams. They distribute water from snow melt in the Sierra Nevada mountains across villages and into fields. These channels hydrate the soil and replenish aquifers, reducing run-off of water into rivers. The ancient systems were constructed by farmers when Arabs and Berbers colonised Spain in the 8th century. But acequias fell out of use around the 1960s with the rise of intensive farming in rural Spain.

A project by the University of Granada has gained traction in recent weeks by restoring the ancient network of channels. Volunteers remove waste which has accumulated following the acequias’ disuse. When Catholics took control of Spain, valuable knowledge of Islamic agriculture was lost. Part of this project is also to provide information to rural communities on how to maintain the acequias as well as supply them with materials.

Why should we care?

Acequias are important for efficient irrigation, healthy soils, and replenished aquifers. They provide a water source from snow melt when rivers dry up in August. Spain experiences regular droughts which have been exacerbated by climate change. This makes water management an increasingly pressing issue.

In dealing with the effects of climate breakdown, solutions can lie in historical methods not just technological advances. Acequias are also being explored as a sustainable irrigation technique in Southwest USA and California. And Peru is turning to pre-Inca water management techniques to manage seasonal floods and droughts. Acequias are community-run and require careful maintenance. They are a great example of a sustainable initiative which promotes community engagement and rural heritage.

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