Water footprint analysis (hydrologic and economic) of the Guadiana river basin

Maite Martinez-Aldaya, M.R. Llamas

Research output: Book/ReportReportProfessional

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In most arid and semiarid countries, water resources management is an issue as important as controversial. Today most water resources experts admit that water conflicts are often not caused by physical water scarcity but poor water management or governance. The virtual-water concept, defined as the volume of water used in the production of a commodity, good or service, together with the water footprint (water volume used to produce the goods and services consumed by a person or community), link a large range of sectors and issues, providing an appropriate framework to find potential solutions and contribute to a better management of water resources, particularly in arid or semi-arid countries. As the most arid country in the European Union, water use and management in Spain is a hot political and social topic. The aim of this study is to analyse the virtual water and water footprint in the semiarid Guadiana basin, both from a hydrological and economic perspective. The trans-boundary Guadiana river basin located in southcentral Spain and Portugal drains an area of 66,800 km2, of which 17% lies in Portugal. The present analysis is carried out for the Spanish side of the basin which has been divided into the Upper, Middle and Lower Guadiana basin and the TOP domain. The TOP domain is a group of three small river basins located near the Guadiana River mouth. In these regions the main green and blue water consuming sector is agriculture, with about 95% of total consumptive water use. In the Upper and Middle Guadiana basins, high virtual-water low-economic value crops are widespread, particularly cereals with low economic productivity of the blue water inputs. In particular, the Upper Guadiana basin is among the most significant in Spain in terms of conflicts between agriculture, with almost no food (virtual water) import, and the conservation of rivers and groundwater-dependent wetlands. On the other hand, in the Lower Guadiana basin and the TOP domain, vegetables and crops under plastic greenhouses are grown for which the economic productivity of the blue water inputs are much higher, using both surface and groundwater resources. The Guadiana basin has already moved into the direction of "more crops and jobs per drop". The aim now is to move towards “more cash and nature per drop”, especially in the Upper and Middle Guadiana basin.
Original languageUndefined
Place of PublicationDelft, the Netherlands
PublisherUnesco-IHE Institute for Water Education
Number of pages86
Publication statusPublished - 2009

Publication series

NameValue of water research report 35
PublisherUNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education


  • IR-77200
  • METIS-250151

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