The specificities of the Mediterranean region within the EU water policy
The Mediterranean regional process intended to take into account Mediterranean-specific issues around the design and implementation of NWRM, providing case studies of NWRM applications in Mediterranean basins, as well as creating a Mediterranean network on NWRM, a community of practice involving practitioners, other experts, and stakeholders .
The process focused on the required characteristics of NWRM in order to best deliver their intended benefits, and sought to promote the discussion about Mediterranean specific challenges and priorities, having in mind the specificities of hydromorphological features and main pressures on water resources in Mediterranean river basin districts. Some NWRMs applicable elsewhere in the EU were discussed accordingly for Mediterranean conditions and NWRMs specifically applicable to the region were highlighted.
NWRM in Mediterranean river basins and the regional specific characteristics
Some specific features of Mediterranean basins point out at the relevance of adequate incentives for water retention in an area where flood management is increasingly relevant but building resilience to water scarcity and drought is still a critical water policy challenge.
The spatiotemporal rainfall and runoff variability, particularly pronounced in some areas of our region, shapes the particularities of the Mediterranean- basins in terms of water resources availability and distribution. Mediterranean rivers have large periodic floods, transporting significant amounts of sediments, shaping braided channels, while many streams are intermittent or ephemeral. Overall, these rainfall and runoff patterns concur with the intensive use of water resources, mostly in agriculture, in some cases due to a quite complex system of dams and reservoirs, part of which have induced significant hydromorphological alterations. Downstream reaches are commonly deprived of high flows, which carry sediments, modify channel morphology, and maintain habitat complexity.
Given the limited decoupling between water use and economic growth trends, growing water demand has led to increasing water scarcity and related risk. In some cases, this is also the result of the lack of coordination of sectoral policies that, in some Mediterranean countries, has led to oversized infrastructures and increasingly idle facilities. Additionally, it is common to find flawed enforcement (and inadequate structure) of water use rights, mostly regarding groundwater resources, and over-allocation of surface water use rights, leading to potential overexploitation.
The fact that drought events are becoming more frequent in the Mediterranean basins, where the average annual demand of water is already higher than the long-term renewable resources (i.e. availability), has led to an increased uncertainty about the reliability of water supply exacerbated by climate change. These critical issues call for improved adaptation mechanisms and strengthened resilience, both in terms of demand reduction and increase on the supply side. In most water scarce areas, competitiveness of both the urban and rural economy is heavily dependent on the availability of a sufficient and reliable provision of water services in particular for agriculture, agro-food industries, and tourism. Opportunities can be identified to reduce water use (e.g. by increasing irrigation efficiency) or to enhance availability. Increasing the water stored in aquifers through recharge facilities such as ponds, temporary delay of runoff by low retention dykes etc., provides infiltration opportunities (including infiltration of treated effluent into aquifers for pumping in the summer and re-use for irrigation) which contribute to increasing water availability (or reallocating it in time) and are measures of particular interest in the area.
Yet, not everything is about scarcity and droughts in the Mediterranean. Torrential rains are common in Mediterranean catchments, which lead to hazards of flash floods, stream flooding, and landslides. The technical analysis of Mediterranean ephemeral streams and mountain torrent floods is quite different to that of flood events in other European rivers (notably due to the sediment load) and opportunities to use the excess floodwater do arise.
A newborn Mediterranean community of practice on NWRM
With the aim of building on previous knowledge on the field of NWRM, the Mediterranean Network has encouraged synergies with other related projects and specialized research centres. It has also facilitated the inclusion of water planners, water related authorities, expert practitioners and researchers to foster NWRM implementation.
The NWRM initiative has enable (though the organization of the Mediterranean workshops and the web based discussion forum) the establishment of new working relationships among participants of the network. This has been particularly relevant in Portugal, were the involvement of Samantha Hughes (UTAD), Ruth Pereira (Universidade do Porto) and Ana Lillebø (Universidade de Aveiro) during the whole process (specially providing case study information and attending the workshops) has ended up in future collaboration in the field of bioengineering, river restoration and water quality.
Furthermore, from discussions during the workshops a new opportunity has arise to organize conferences on NWRM at national level, that would ensure the continuity of the project and the further inclusion of NWRM in water planning, studies and projects. National authorities, river basin authorities, experts and stakeholders have express their interest in such initiative.
Gonzalo Delacámara (IMDEA; NWRM Mediterranean Network Regional Co-ordinator) with contributions from Ayis Iacovides and Maggie Kossida (IACO)