Since 2018, the Ministry for Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge (MITECO) has been promoting environmental sustainability through the PERTE on digitisation of irrigation to address Spain's demographic challenges. The creation of the MITECO reflects the importance that the Spanish government attaches to environmental protection and the fight against climate change, as well as the challenges related to depopulation and demographic distribution in the country.
This Ministry is promoting the Strategic Projects for the Economic Recovery and Transformation (PERTE) which aim to boost the country's economic recovery and promote the transition to a sustainable and environmentally friendly model.
First of all, what is the main objective pursued by the Sub-Directorate General for Water Protection and Risk Management?
The main objective of our Sub-Directorate is the protection of water, both in terms of quantity and quality. For this reason, measures are coordinated in relation to the surveillance, monitoring and control of the state of surface and groundwater bodies, hydrological information, ecological flows, river restoration, flood risk management. It also promotes measures to combat and control point and diffuse pollution in coordination with other competent administrations and manages authorisations for discharges into the Public Hydraulic Domain that fall under the Ministry's jurisdiction.
How would you define the current state of irrigation in Spain?
Irrigation is one of the pillars of rural development, contributing to food security. Currently, irrigation management is coordinated by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, integrating intelligent, sustainable and inclusive management.
Although the Spanish irrigation sector is highly technified, there is still much room for improvement and an increase in the digitalisation of the sector will contribute to the implementation of modernisation strategies that will enable the transition towards a more intelligent, precise and sustainable agriculture that optimises production processes, collaborating in the implementation of what is known as Agriculture 4.0.
What measures are being taken by the Subdirectorate-General for Water Protection and Risk Management to ensure sustainability and energy efficiency in the digitisation of irrigation?
The star measure being taken by the Sub-Directorate is the promotion of the PERTE de Digitisation of the water cycleThe call for aid for the development of digitisation projects for irrigation water user communities is to be published in the framework of this call, which is expected to be published in July 2023.
What are the main guidelines of the PERTE for the digitisation of irrigation?
The grants, which will be awarded on a competitive basis, will go to projects that contribute to achieving one or more of the following objectives:
- Improvements in the knowledge of water uses in irrigation and transparency in administrative water management.
- Improved knowledge of water losses on irrigated farms.
- Improvements in water use on irrigated farms.
- Improvements in the use of fertilisers and pesticides.
- Improvements in energy efficiency on irrigated farms and, in general, in their productivity.
Water user communities whose main use is irrigation, constituted in accordance with the Texto Refundido de la Ley de Aguas: irrigation communities, groundwater user communities, general communities, central user boards or groups of the above that meet all the requirements set out in the regulatory bases and in the call for applications, may apply for aid.
Irrigation digitisation projects shall be composed of one or more digital components from the following catalogue, some of which shall be mandatory:
- Digital solution A. Creation of an e-processing application and a web portal.
- Digital solution B. Creation of inventories and web services of geographic information systems and cadastral identification of the agricultural parcel and irrigation network.
- Digital solution C. Technological improvements and digitalisation of the systems for monitoring the volume of water actually used.
- Digital solution D. Soil water content monitoring for irrigation optimisation.
- Digital solution E. Monitoring of water quality in irrigation returns to surface watercourses.
- Digital solution F. Monitoring of leachate to groundwater.
- Digital solution G. Support for remote control, monitoring and support for fertigation and improved energy efficiency.
In addition, there will be appropriation reserves for projects which are supplied from water bodies with a status worse than good according to the river basin management plans in force.
What challenges do you see in the implementation of these guidelines?
This aid will facilitate compliance with current water legislation (measuring the volume of water collected and returned to the Public Water Domain). This contributes to water protection. But these aids have also been designed to be attractive to user communities with many other actions that can contribute to improving water management.
The main challenge is for irrigation water user communities to apply for this aid, because the main objective is to be able to share the budget and to benefit both irrigated agriculture and water protection.
What are the advantages of the PERTE for the digitalisation of irrigation?
The PERTE for the digitisation of irrigation represents an important boost to the digitisation of irrigation water user communities.
Data acquisition and management at user community level will be promoted to aid decision-making. This will encourage more resource-efficient agriculture, both in terms of water use and fertilisers and pesticides, which will have a positive impact on farm profitability and the environment. Aid may be granted up to 100% of expenditure up to certain limits, on condition that the installations are maintained for 5 years after the end of the project.
Do you therefore consider that data management can contribute to the modernisation of irrigation and why?
Data management is essential, as it provides accurate information on the needs of the plant in order to make farming smarter and more innovative.
In addition, monitoring water use can help to achieve greater efficiency in water use, in order to achieve better yields from the scarce resources at our disposal.
Finally, could you highlight any specific project that has been carried out in recent years that has contributed to the improvement of irrigation systems and, therefore, to the optimisation of water?
In our sub-directorate, projects within the framework of the PERTE for the digitalisation of irrigation will be the first to contribute to the improvement of irrigation systems.