Province of Albacete, Spain


In this case study, we aim to explore the impact of spatially and temporally distant dynamics on local conflicts around groundwater use. Albacete in south-western Spain is the biggest city of a region called La Mancha Oriental that is known for intensive agriculture. Groundwater is used for irrigation purposes as well as for drinking water supply. Presumably, the intensive abstraction of groundwater leads to lower discharge into the river Júcar which transports water to the coastal areas around Valencia. Consequently, downstream farmers as well as conservationists complain about sinking water levels of the Júcar which supplies ecosystems like the Albufera wetlands and irrigation systems. Hence, conflicts exist between upstream farmers, downstream farmers, conservationists as well as the river basin district authority (Confederación Hidrográfica del Júcar (CHJ)) distributing abstraction rights. Besides these quantitative issues, also high values of nitrate and pesticides in regional groundwater bodies were detected ( Albiac et al., unpublished / Esteban et al., 2016 / Las Provincias, 2021 / Ferreira et al., 2016 / Menchen, 2017).

In the past years, the city of Albacete started to source its drinking water supply with surface water of the river Júcar using the infrastructure of an inter-basin water transfer. The Tagus-Segura canal transfers water over 286 km from central Spain to southern Spain and thereby crosses the region La Mancha Oriental. Also, farmers now extract canal water for irrigation purposes ( CHJ, 2022 / Morote et al., 2020 / Sanz et al., 2019) . Besides these regional interactions, the high export rates of agricultural products from La Mancha Oriental to other EU countries like Germany create cause-effect mechanisms beyond national borders e.g. through virtual water trade (Ministerio de agricultura, pesca y alimentación).


With this case study, we want to contribute to the development of groundwater governance approaches that consider spatially and temporally distant couplings of social-ecological systems emerging through inter-basin water transfers, agricultural practices or exports.



Contribute to telecoupling research by considering remote water transfers and virtual water trade as flows between systems.

Conflicts (Political Ecology)

  • How does remote water transfer shape groundwater conflicts?
  • How do the material characteristics of groundwater (slow flows, invisibility, etc.) shape groundwater conflicts?
  • What are barriers and potentials for just and sustainable groundwater governance under the WFD considering the effects of remote water transfers and virtual water trade on groundwater conflicts?