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Participatory design of adaptive groundwater management strategies and instruments in Mediterranean coastal water scarce areas as a response to climate change


Develop capacity building methods for water users to define and discuss possible strategies of adaptation to future changes including climate change; Support definition of ground water management strategies and practices through improved participation of irrigation farmers.


Context and objectives

Climate policies are based on two intervention means: mitigation and adaptation. Adaptation means the evolution of human activities and ecosystems in order to limit the damages that climate changes which could not be avoided may cause, or to benefit from the opportunities these changes may create. Mitigation has been historically given more importance, but the increase of crisis situations led to more attention paid to adaptation policies. In particular, the Mediterranean area is seen as a “hot spot” that needs such adaptation policies. While mitigation is mainly about global solutions, adaptation requires to be built at local level, and involvement of local stakeholders may support the design of relevant adaptation measures. Such approach fits the call for participation that is increasingly present in environmental policies, and especially water management.
Such an approach may however face several constraints: engaging stakeholders related to water resources to answer the call to adapt water management to climate change is not so evident. Firstly, there may be a gap between the stakes perceived by local stakeholders and those linked to climate change. Indeed, time horizons may be completely different: economic actors usually pay much more importance to the short term, while predictions of climate change models generally deal with periods between 2050 and 2100. This latter horizon may thus appear to be too far away for stakeholder to imagine it, and schedule actions. Local water users may consider that the State has a preeminent role in defining such policies (and thus that their participation is not relevant) but then local institutions may not have sufficient capacities to plan development at such time horizon. Finally, water users may not have organizations sufficiently organized to represent them in processes to reflect or take decisions. All this leads to a possible lack of capacity and interest of local stakeholders to participate in foresight analyses. In such a context, and given local contexts, what is the relevance, what are the opportunities and which methods to organize such foresight reflections with local stakeholders?
The Aquimed project (2008-2010) focused on coastal aquifers of the Mediterranean area, either in current situation or at risk of overexploitation, as these zones may be especially vulnerable to climate change impacts. Indeed, in both the North and South banks of the Mediterranean, the increasing use of groundwater resources enabled agricultural growth but also led to overexploitation patterns that may jeopardize such development. Coastal aquifers are especially sensitive because sea water intrusion is not fully reversible. In the long term, current predictions schedule that climate change may lead to an increase in irrigation water demands and a risk of decrease in groundwater recharge. In such context, new groundwater management practices have to be developed to impede further degradations of such groundwater resources.
The Aquimed project aimed at answering this challenge, by developing methods to support local stakeholder capacities to anticipate future changes, and in particular climate ones, and to identify and evaluate possible strategies for groundwater resources management. The methodological component of the project enabled to develop and test diverse participatory foresight methods that are adapted to various situations on both the North and South banks of the Mediterranean area. Also, the reflections undertaken with the various stakeholder groups led to original knowledge in possible scenarios and relevant development strategies, at multiple scales, from the farm to the regional territories.
The Aquimed activities were organized along three axes: i) an initial analysis, common to the three studied cases, of perceptions of local inhabitants of climate and water resources variability and changes, ii) several series of workshops for participatory foresight, with groups of farmers and institutions in charge of agriculture and water resource management; iii) the set-up of an exchange network between stakeholders and researchers in France, Morocco and Portugal.

Studied cases

The three case studies were the Roussillon Plain in France, the Querença-Silves Region in Portugal, and the Coastal Chaouia Region in Morocco.
In France, the 700 km2 multi layer Roussillon Plain Aquifer is located along the southernmost part of the French Mediterranean coast, near to the Spanish border. The aquifers present in this area are intensively used for drinking water purposes, for tourism related activities along the coast and by agriculture for irrigating orchards, vegetables crops and, to a less extent, vineyards. Since the superficial aquifer was increasingly affected by diffuse pollution, deeper aquifers have been progressively more exploited, in particular by municipalities but also by large-scale vegetable producers. The resulting decline in the water tables, which has been observed over the last 20 to 30 years, is expected to continue as the population keeps growing and the farming sector progressively abandons ancient surface canal irrigation systems in favor of new drilled irrigation wells and boreholes. In response to these increasing pressures on groundwater, the local authorities and government agencies have actively supported the establishment of a participatory forum bringing together all major stakeholders to debate on actions to be implemented.
In Portugal, the 318 km2 Querença-Silves Aquifer is considered the most important aquifer system of the Algarve Region in the South of Portugal. This aquifer is located in one of the most touristic seaside resorts in Portugal, where the population increases tenfold in the summer months. Besides supplying hotels, holiday houses and golf courses, this aquifer also supplies farmers (mainly for citrus production) and some industries. In the summer of 2005 (the worst in the last 40 years), the extreme drought Portugal was going through brought this aquifer to record lowest recharge levels. Authorities took several measures such as restricting water withdrawal to 50% and resorting to other water supply solutions. Scheduled increases in groundwater demand for domestic and tourism purposes call for planning of groundwater uses. In 2009, the Algarve Water District Administration initiated a participatory process to define a plan for conjunctive use of surface and groundwater resources in the region.
In Morocco, the 1200 km2 Chaouia Costal Aquifer is situated between Casablanca and Azemmour cities. Since the 70s, groundwater has been used intensively for irrigation, initially for citrus production and later for market crops (mainly tomato and potato) and forage. Groundwater overuse led to sea water intrusion in littoral land, with water salinity reaching up to 10mS/cm, and decreasing groundwater levels in in-land areas. Since the 80s, farmers have to adapt to such groundwater stress, with strategies such as deepening boreholes, bringing fresh water in sufficient quantity to their farms or renting fields in groundwater fertile areas, either more in-land or in other regions. Groundwater stress has been the prime factor that led the region from very intensive export-oriented agriculture to a current situation of crisis and fragility nowadays. No groundwater management mechanism is yet implemented in practice. Public policy plans contemplate bringing surface water to part of the area and accompanying shift to less water-dependent activities, such as poultry.

Initial diagnosis

In a first step, an enquiry was made on the case studies, using a common framework, on farmers‟ perceptions vis-à-vis climate and water resources. This revealed that in all cases, farmers do not perceive any major change in the climate. Also, the cases studies have in common that agriculture, which is the main user of water resources, is in crisis. However, the three cases differ in two major aspects. The first one is the stress over groundwater resources. In the Roussillon and Querença-Silves, water is not considered currently as a major constraint for farmers. In parallel, climate change and the necessity to adapt to it are seen as a remote issue. On the contrary, in the Chaouia case, farmers place groundwater scarcity (and salinity) as the most important constraint: as such, water scarcity (and the relate climate variability) are an important issue currently for them. The second difference is the status of groundwater governance. Water management is emerging in Roussillon and Querença-Silves, but not even yet planned in the Chaouia case. This leads to importance differences in the capacity of public institutions to incorporate the issue of climate change on the long term, and the existence of a spaced for dialogue between public organizations and users.

Foresight methodology

Because of such differences, a different methodology was implemented in the european countries on the one hand and in Morocco on the other. In the Roussillon and Querença-Silves regions, groups of farmers, representatives of different aspects of agriculture in the region, were invited to scenarios prepared by the research team. This was done in three steps. First, scenarios of evolution of agriculture by 2030 were designed, based in local data and interviews of key stakeholders. Second, data on past climate changes were presented as well as possible impacts of climate change on farming practices by 2050. Third, three possible scenarios for groundwater management were proposed. Such work was also achieved with public organizations. In Portugal, a last workshop gathered farmers and public organizations that had participated to previous workshops.
In the Chaouia, the team decided to build with local stakeholders' scenarios and actions for a better adaptation to current climate variability. Climate change in the long term was only mentioned with public organizations. Farmers groups prepared a diagnosis of their area, then built scenarios for agriculture in the future and defined possible actions, at aquifer level, to achieve preferred scenario. A similar work was done with staff from the Ministry of Agriculture. A final workshop gathered also participants of previous workshops, to compare past analyses, scenarios and proposed solutions.


In the three cases, the approach tested a way to associate local stakeholders in reflection over perspectives for sustainable development of coastal regions, by connecting agricultural development and the analysis of adaptation to climate variability and change. In the Roussillon, this also showed the interest of proposing pre-redacted scenarios for discussion with stakeholders. The work on regional scenarios by 2030 enabled to clarify the factors that farmers thought as being keys for the evolution of the sector. The second series of workshops enabled to debate a series of possible means to adapt climate change. It put forwards that farmers are already well accustomed to manage climate variability, so that there is no much sense in trying to improve their capacity to adapt in the long term. Moreover, this constraint remains much less important that those of market access and labor costs. First workshops in Querença-Silves showed that water access is less a constraint for farmers than marketing. However, farmers pay much importance to climate variability.
In both the Roussillon and Querença-Silves areas, three different scenarios of groundwater were discussed with participants in the third workshop. All scenarios involved a control over each farmer use of groundwater, but they differed in the institutional set-up. A first scenario considered the possibility for farmers to trade their water authorizations, a second one was about community management, and a last one considered that these authorizations remain administrated by the state. Farmers assessed the links between these different scenarios and the agricultural development scenarios discussed during the first series of workshops. They showed their interest in management models that mix state intervention for water police and collectively made water management rules.
These workshops showed the capacity of stakeholders, to the approach validated farmers‟ capacity to engage in such kind of foresight reflection in the long term, despite the economic fragility of their sector and their lack of experiences in discussing such issues.
In Morocco, possible scenarios for local development were defined and discussed. These scenarios enabled to open up the debate, and to imagine agricultural productions that may be different from the ones in the past. Moreover, in a situation of lack of dialogue between farmers and public organizations, the work enabled to test a method to accompany both farmers and public organizations to produce analyses and ideas so as to prepare a fruitful exchange.

Lessons and perspectives

Comparison between the three studied cases shows both differences and commonalities. Indeed, different modalities were chosen, in terms of the time horizon, the geographical scale or the way to build scenarios. Despite these differences, in all cases it appeared fruitful to start with a discussion regarding agriculture to later on address water resource issues.
The work confirmed the gap between the generally made call to adapt water policies to climate changes on the one hand and farmers‟ preoccupations on the other. This said, the long term projections enabled to ask new questions about the future of agriculture. It also showed the opportunity not to limit the analysis as seeing agriculture as a water user, but to mix discussions on agricultural and water policies. In Querença-Silves, farmers were highly motivated to participate due to a complete lack of dialogue opportunities with water resource management organizations. In the Chaouia, discussing better adaptation to current climate variability appeared as an interesting proxy for adaptation to future climate change.

Added value of the project for the Mediterranean scientific community.

The Aquimed project appeared as complementary to the other projects of the Circle-Med initiatives. The latter were mostly centered on the ways of integrating the climate change issue in natural sciences research (hydrogeology, ecosystems, etc.). These projects faced the challenges of engaging stakeholders in the research process and in communicating research results to support policy making. The Aquimed project processed the other way around, as the aim was not to produce new natural science knowledge on climate change, but rather about how to organize such exchange between natural science results and stakeholders, so as to improve local capacities to discuss adapt strategies to climate change.
The Aquimed team proposed, after the final Circle-Med workshop held in March 2011 in Aix (France), to work on the interactions between scientists and stakeholders that took place in the 7 other projects financed within the Circle-Med initiative. Such ex post assessment will support the development of a network of scientists around this issue of building two-way bridges between science and policy with regards climate change in the Mediterranean area.


See also the article in Regional Environment Change supplement issue with articles from CIRCLE-MED projects (Volume 14 - Supplement 1 - Feb.2014)


Student theses

Six student theses were undertaken in the course of the project.

In Morocco:

  • El Fannani, O. 2009. Analyse et diagnostic de la mise en place et de la pratique d‟irrigation localisee dans la zone de la chaouia cotiere. Master thesis, IAV, Rabat.
  • Gbegre, B. 2009. Agriculture irriguee dans un contexte de salinite : strategies d‟adaptations et perspectives de gestion cas de la nappe de la Chaouïa côtière dans la région d‟Azemmour. Master theis, IAV Rabat.
  • Berahmani, A. 2009. Etude de la dynamique des exploitations agricoles face à une situation de la dégradation des ressources souterraines –cas de la nappe de Chaouia Côtière. Master thesis, ENA Meknes.
  • Ouaouh, M. 2010. Quelques options d'aménagement hydro-agricole dans une zone sous forte contrainte d'eau : cas de la Chaouia côtière. Master thesis, IAV.

In Portugal :

  • Gervasi, C. 2010. Diagnostique et prospective pour la gestion d‟un aquifère. Mid-term internship thesis, Supagro-Cemagref.

In France:

  • Matignon, M. 2008. Comment susciter l‟engagement de la profession agricole dans la gestion territoriale de l‟eau ? Cas de la gestion de la nappe plio-quaternaire de la plaine du Roussillon dans une perspective de changement climatique. Master thesis, Ceamgref- Enesad.

Publication to public institutions

In Morocco, the experience was published in the November 2010 edition of Pack Info, a monthly magazine read by most public and private institutions involved in agriculture in Morocco.

Research papers

The analysis of farmers‟ perception of climate changes and water resources, and its consequence for thinking farmer participation in participatory processes regarding such issues, were presented at the European Sociological Association conference in Lisbon, in September 2009. This document corresponds to Deliverable R4 and is currently under preparation for submission in an international peer-reviewed journal.

In December 2010, there were not yet published documents, as the process had been recently completed. This said, R1.3 is already submitted to Irrigation and Drainage Journal.

Two papers were published on the French case:

  • Richard-Ferroudji A. Garin P. , Matignon M. , Maton L. , Rinaudo J.D. , Rollin D. ,. 2010. Engager des agriculteurs à répondre à l‟injonction d‟adapter la gestion de l‟eau au changement climatique. ctes du colloque Discussion de la mise en œuvre d‟ateliers de prospective avec des agriculteurs usagers des nappes du Roussillon (France). In : Agir en situation d'incertitude, Ancey et al. Ed., 22-24 novembre 2010, Montpellier.
  • Maton, L. Rinaudo, JD., Caballero, Y., Richard, A. Rollin, D. 2010. Que pensent les agriculteurs et les acteurs institutionnels des impacts du changement climatique sur l‟agriculture des Pyrénées Orientales et des adaptations possibles ? Résultats d‟une démarche participative. Ed., 22-24 novembre 2010, Montpellier.

Two papers making a cross-analysis of the three case studies are under way: 1) on the way the participatory process was planned and implemented, in particular the foresight part, and how different contexts led to different way to implement
an initially common question; 2) a paper on assessment of the opportunities and risks of researchers‟ initiated participatory foresight analysis for discussing how to adapt climate change for better groundwater management (to be presented in March, 2011, in Orleans). In parallel, two papers are being prepared to compare and discuss results obtained in the French and Portuguese case studies, were every similar methodological approaches have been implemented. The first paper will present an overview of the scenario workshop approach. The second paper will focus on the discussion of alternative water management scenarios, using the material collected during the third series of workshops in France and Portugal.


Nicolas FAYSSE: faysse@cirad.fr

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Project Agenda

AQUIMED project Final conference
Address: Azemour, Meknès (Morocco)
Contact: nicolas.faysse@cirad.fr
Date: 06 Dec 2010 / 08 Dec 2010

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