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In France, irrigated agriculture covers more than two millions hectares, less than half of which depend on collective management by water users' association or by semi-public companies. However, collective forms of management dominate in the Mediterranean basin, a function of their history and to the maintenance of forms of cooperation.
"Promoting a global and balanced management of the resource in water and its utilization by reconciling respect for the environment and an economically viable agriculture" is the objective of local dialogue between farmers, development professionals and various partners and other water users("Irri-mieux"). This institutional and social dynamic, as applied notably in the Têt valley, has served as a reference for the construction of the project ISIIMM with Mediterranean partners.
The Case studies
Têt Valley (Pyrénées-Orientales, Languedoc Roussillon)
For centuries, Catalan farmers have been trying to tame the wild streams of the Têt river. The Têt is the biggest river basin (1400 km2) of the Pyrénées Orientales department and suffers from droughts and floods because of the Mediterranean climate. Irrigation has been developed since the Middle Ages through hundreds of canals diverting water from the Têt river and its tributaries to the fields. In the high basin, meadows are irrigated for meat production and in the low basin, water is used in fruit and vegetable production. This tradition has left a strong mark on the landscape with the contrast between the regatiu, where the irrigated gardens and orchards are green and luxurious, and the aspre, the dry and hard territories, where only olive trees and vines will grow without water.
Historically, the canals were built for several purposes: for energy for mills and forges as well as for drinking water and irrigation. Today, the main use of canals is the irrigation of almost 12 000 ha. In the last 20 years their users have come to understand their key role in flood prevention, groundwater recharge and landscape building and protection.
Since the Middle Ages, canals have been managed by users' groups with strong rules for water distribution and collective maintenance. At the end of the XIXth century, these groups became ASA (associations syndicales autorisées). During the XXth century, three big dams were built for hydroelectric energy, irrigation and flood prevention. In the last 20 years, a few of the largest traditional networks have been modernised for drip irrigation, and an original system of water management has been set up at the basin level including representatives of all users, to share water during the drought periods.
Today, urban development in the plains and declining mountain farming requires a review of the ASA system.
These old fashioned institutions have to enter the third millennium and its new political, economic, social
and environmental context. New canal functions (ground water replenishment, rain water drainage, gardens irrigation
in the cities, landscapes, ...) must be better understood. A broad new multi-use water management system needs to be agreed for the whole basin, including groundwater, tributaries and sub-basins.
For the ISIIMM project, two worksites have been chosen in the Têt basin :
The Durance basin (Provence, Alpes, Côte d'Azur)
The Durance drains significant quantities of water from the Alps to the Mediterranean, irrigating a large part of the territory in Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region giving structure to this arid basin which connects the mountains with the plains and in which people, agriculture and communications are concentrated.
Spatial and temporal watercourse control has been a main issue for the preservation of the life in this region since the XII century, when canals were created to transport water mainly for agricultural purposes. Water rights are influenced by the Roman system, they are connected to property rights and can be negotiated. In the middle of the XIXth century, the creation of irrigators' associations ASA), that have the status of public bodies enabled the common management of water and hydraulic schemes.
However the strong freshet of the Durance, which occur most years have long provoked local conflicts, particularly between mountain zones and plains. At the beginning of the XXth century the state became involved, creating the Durance Executive Committee (CED), an organisation that brought together canal user and administration representatives. The CED has been working now for a century, prefiguring the notion of global management.
Finally, in the middle of the XXth Century, the state allowed Electricité de France to build the big Serre-Ponçon dam. Gradually agreements are being established between the company and irrigators' associations or syndicates.
Thus, the Durance valley has an organised system of water management connecting different institutions at various levels, from local areas to the whole basin. Approximately 400 ASA deal with agricultural water use and are involved in the irrigation of 150.000 Hectares.
Several new economic and environmental factors have emerged that now orient the management of the Durance. The dynamic of water demand, originally for agriculture has shifted towards drinking water, in accordance with the context of the French Mediterranean Region (agricultural decline, unsuitable national water savings policy in mediterranean zone, increases in both permanent and seasonal population). People are aware of the importance of social and environmental common wealth related to the Durance : landscape, groundwater recharge through irrigation and surface water uses, prevention of risks, biodiversity conservation.
The Regional administration has created the "Mission Durance" to find new answers to the maintenance of natural systems and to the changes in use and to formulate constructive proposals at the regional scale. At local and intermediate levels, it will be imperative to take account of all these changes in order to integrate all the existing uses: hydro-electricity, irrigation, drinking water and the new demands for tourism and ecology. The Mission aims to find a new solution for collective management as required by the new law on water applying the European water framework directive.
For the ISIIMM project, two worksites have been chosen in the Durance bassin :