Southern Spain is a highly productive agricultural region, but with huge challenges around water scarcity and environmental sustainability. There is a demand in the agricultural sector to work towards water stewardship in Spain. The Alliance for Water Stewardship has developed a Standard which helps retailers and their suppliers to cause change at scale. This approach recognizes that there are common challenges that could be more easily overcome through a collective, place-based approach.

In the Doñana region, berry farms and groundwater usage are causing a conflict with the unique ecosystems in the National Park. A catchment assessment and active stakeholder engagement is needed as a first step in this region to work towards water stewardship. The catchment assessment will provide information on the catchment context, in line with the requirements of the Standard. The purpose of the assessment is to reduce the burden on agricultural sites by providing them with a common set of information which they and others can use to inform responses to their shared water challenges.

This consultancy project is framed by the AQUIFER project, “Innovative instruments for the integrated management of groundwater in a context of increasing scarcity of water resources” (Interreg-SUDOE V programme) which aims to capitalize, test, disseminate and transfer innovative practices for the preservation, monitoring and integrated management of aquifers.

FutureWater expertise was required for providing a novel and open-source hydrological modelling framework able to quantify spatial patterns of daily root percolation as a direct surrogate of groundwater recharge in the Campo de Cartagena Quaternary Aquifer (CC-QA). This aquifer is located at SE Spain and is one of the most important vectors of water drainage to the Mar Menor lagoon.

This task is addressed through the improvement and local calibration of the SPHY code for the Campo de Cartagena and the simulation of the water balance in the soil root zone from the 1950s until the end 2020. The SPHY-Campo de Cartagena includes a new routine able to compute irrigation inputs at the pixel level based on satellite data. Timeseries of monthly root percolation are taken as good surrogates of potential groundwater recharge and used as the main forcing input to an hydrogeological model of the Quaternary aquifer. The calibration process is performed through a sensititivity-intercomparison analysis in which model-derived outputs (irrigation and streamflow) during the calibration period are cross-checked against actual observations.

Spatial patterns of root percolation and the relative contribution of irrigation return flows to the total groundwater recharge were quantified (e.g. Figure 1) under historical and current conditions. Simulation results would show the lack of a significant temporal trend in the long-term recharge rates in the aquifer, most likely due to the the strong interannual variability observed in rainfall patterns, but also by the trade-offs resulting from the combination of climate, land use and irrigation-crop management drivers.

Figure 1. Mean Annual values of the main water balance components in Campo de Cartagena (2000-2020). RPer_ratio refers to the fraction between Root Percolation (MA.RPer) and Precipitation (MA.Pre)

FutureWater supports Fiera Comox in its due diligence process for the acquisition of a vertically integrated tree-fruit operation in North Spain. Particularly, FutureWater addresses an overall assessment of the most important water-related factors of risk that may control the current and medium-term feasibility of the fruit orchard farming system of interest. The application of FutureWater’s approach applies a multicriteria analysis and allows to qualify the levels of risk for each key factor analyzed.

FutureWater’s approach rests on: 1) the collection and analysis of data retrieved from documents, large datasets, and in-situ field inspections and stakeholder interviews, and 2) the scoring of the risks previously identified based on a final expert judgment.

Key sources of information for this risk screening included:

  • Existing documentation, reports, plans, and local legislation that may affect the access to water for irrigation
  • Existing and publicly accessible spatial and GIS data, including satellite imagery and thematic datasets available through national and regional agencies and platforms (Ebro River Basin Authority, National Infrastructure of Geospatial Data, Spanish Information System of Water)
  • Meteorological data (rainfall and temperature) from nearby weather stations
  • Groundwater level from the Spanish National Ministry of Environment.
  • Private data and documents generated by clients and stakeholders through personal and follow-up communications with farmer

Key variables analyzed and evaluated at the district and regional scales, to the extent relevant to the farm, included:

  • Water availability of surface and groundwater resources. For groundwater, a trend analysis of water levels, and first-order assessment of quality constraints and risks is included.
  • Impacts of climate change on water resources availability based on rainfall and temperature trends and projections for the region.
  • Water quality for irrigation purposes.
  • Potential conflicts due to competition for water in agriculture and other sectors of activity.

Legislative and policy-related factors that may affect the overall performance were also analyzed risk-by-risk.

Four factors of risk were analyzed: water availability, climate change, water quality, and water conflict. Each factor of risk was scored according to a risk matrix in which levels of probability of occurrence and impact severity were qualified based on data and expert judgement. For each factor, a risk matrix with three levels of overall risk were adopted: Low Risk (L), Moderate Risk (M), and High Risk (H)

Figure 1. Overall risk levels when probability of occurrence and impact severity are qualified.
Figure 2. Overview of risk assessment by factor.

In this particular project, the approach was implemented in four different settings located in the area.

The Mediterranean Region is facing growing challenges to ensure food and water supply as countries experience increasing demand and decreasing availability of natural resources. The nexus approach aims at managing and leveraging synergies across sectors with an efficient and integrated management of the Water, Energy, Food, and Ecosystems Nexus (WEFE).

BONEX objectives are to provide practical and adapted tools, examine concrete and context-adapted technological innovations, enhance policies and governance and facilitate WEFE Nexus practical implementation that balances the social, economic, and ecological trade-offs.

The project aims at producing a novel, transdisciplinary, diagnostic WEFE Bridging Framework, which combines methods in a context-specific manner and going beyond disciplinary silos. The diagnostic tools supporting the framework will be developed and tested in seven selected demonstration projects in the region which pilot innovative technologies (agrivoltaics, wastewater reuse systems, etc.).

As a result, BONEX will provide policymakers and practitioners with an interactive decision-making tool to evaluate trade-offs, synergies, and nexus solutions approaches in a transdisciplinary manner. Further, it will produce valuable experiences with tailoring innovative WEFE Nexus technologies that provides new business opportunities. The WEFE nexus approach is required to implement sustainable agri-food systems and preserve ecosystems.

Within BONEX FutureWater will actively contribute to the package of diagnostic tools. A simple water accounting tool (REWAS) will be used to evaluate if ‘Real Water Savings’ are achieved with innovative technologies. The water accounting tool evaluates water flows at field level and irrigation district scale and determines if any ‘real savings’ are achieved. The tool also incorporates the aspects of food production (crop yield) and will introduce components for evaluating energy and water quality aspects to complement the WEFE Nexus aspects. The seven demonstration projects will be used to demonstrate and iteratively develop this water accounting tool. A hydrological analysis is performed in selected locations to also evaluate the impact at basin (watershed) scale. Eventually the results from these analyses will be translated into policy implications and achievements of SDG’s (sustainable development goals).

This project is part of the PRIMA programme supported by the European Union.

Water and food security are at risk in many places in the world: now and most likely even more in the future, having large economic and humanitarian consequences. Risk managers and decision-makers, such as water management authorities and humanitarian-aid agencies/NGOs, can prevent harmful consequences more efficiently if information is available on-time on (1) the impact on the system, economy or society, and also (2) the probabilities for a failure in the system. EO information has proven to be extremely useful for (1). For looking into the future, considering the uncertainties, novel machine learning techniques are becoming available.

The proposed development is incorporated into an existing solution for providing Drought and Early Warning Systems (DEWS), called InfoSequia. InfoSequia is a modular and flexible toolbox for the operational assessment of drought patterns and drought severity. Currently, the InfoSequia toolbox provides a comprehensive picture of current drought status, based mainly on EO data, through its InfoSequia-MONITOR module. The proposed additional module, called InfoSequia-4CAST, is a major extension of current InfoSequia capabilities, responding to needs that have been assessed in several previous experiences.

InfoSequia-4CAST provides the user with timely, future outlooks of drought impacts on crop yield and water supply. These forecasts are provided on the seasonal scale, i.e. 3-6 months ahead. Seasonal outlooks are computed by a novel state-of-the-art Machine Learning technique. This technique has already been tested for applications related to crop production forecasting and agricultural drought risk financing. The FFTrees algorithm uses predictor datasets (in this case, a range of climate variability indices alongside other climatic and vegetative indices) to generate FFTs predicting a binary outcome – crop yields or water supply-demand balance above or below a given threshold (failure: yes/no).

The activity includes intensive collaboration with stakeholders in Spain, Colombia and Mozambique, in order to establish user requirements, inform system design, and achieve pilot implementation of the system in the second project year. Generic machine learning procedures for training the required FFTs will be developed, and configured for these pilot areas. An intuitive user interface is developed for disseminating the output information to the end users. In addition to development of the forecasting functionality, InfoSequia-MONITOR will be upgraded by integrating state-of-the art ESA satellite data and creating multi-sensor blended drought indices.

This project is part of the technical-innovation support provided by FutureWater to ECOPRADERAS, an EIP-AGRI Operational Group led by Ambienta Ing. and co-funded by the EU and the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture. As a general objective, ECOPRADERAS aims to improve the sustainable management of grasslands located at the Alagon Valley (Extremadura, Spain) through: (1) the transfer and implementation of innovative technologies, (2) the identification and strengthening of good cultural practices, and (3) the dissemination of the most relevant information and results among end users.

In the frame of ECOPRADERAS, FutureWater is tasked with the development of an operational monitoring tool able to inform, at the regional scale, on the health status of the grasslands by using satellite data of moderate spatial resolution. The ECOPRADERAS monitor includes the following innovative features:

  • Generation of a categorical index indicative of the health status of grasslands based on the combination of indices of spatial and temporal greenness anomalies.
  • Higher spatial details by using satellite images of moderate spatial resolution (collection of Landsat-8TM of 30 m resolution)
  • Large improvement for collecting and processing large satellite datasets by using the Google Earth Engine cloud-based geoprocessing platform (collection of Landsat-8TM from January 2014 onwards)
  • A user friendly web-mapping interface to visualize outputs

The methodology used by FutureWater uses massive data processing technologies in the cloud (Google Earth Engine) to compute a pixel-based categorical index that result of the combination of a spatial and a temporal anomaly of the greenness index (NDVI). After a local calibration that needs to be adopted, this qualitative index, called the Combined Index of Normalized Anomalies (ICAN) (figure), classifies the status of grasslands in the region of interest into different categories that informs on the health grasslands and how are they being managed. With the ICAN, land managers and local actors can early detect those portions in the landscape in which management practices may pose a risk for the sustainability of the agropastoral system and then would require special attention for improving them.

Logic diagram for computing the Combined Index of Normalized Anomalies (ICAN) in the ECOPRADERAS Monitor.The specific tasks developed by FutureWater included: the definition of a methodological framework for monitor the health of grasslands at the regional scale, the design of a processing and web-mapping platform and its practical implementation in the Alagon Valley (182 km2) from September 2019 to July 2020, and the calibration-validation of the results by comparing outputs with field observations collected in different pilot sites by other project partners.

An evaluation of the results points out to the strength of the methodology. The processing architecture is also easily scalable to other regions and rangeland landscapes. Further improvements have been also envisioned. The ECOPRADERAS Monitor stands as a very powerful tool to guide landscape managers local stakeholders on better decisions.

ECOPRADERAS Monitor at the Alagon Valley (Extremadura, Spain)

Groundwater is one of the most important freshwater resources for mankind and for ecosystems. Assessing groundwater resources and developing sustainable water management plans based on this resource is a major field of activity for science, water authorities and consultancies worldwide. Due to its fundamental role in the Earth’s water and energy cycles, groundwater has been declared as an Essential Climate Variable (ECV) by GCOS, the Global Climate Observing System. The Copernicus Services, however, do not yet deliver data on this fundamental resource, nor is there any other data source worldwide that operationally provides information on changing groundwater resources in a consistent way, observation-based, and with global coverage. This gap will be closed by G3P, the Global Gravity-based Groundwater Product.

The G3P consortium combines key expertise from science and industry across Europe that optimally allows to (1) capitalize from the unique capability of GRACE and GRACE-FO satellite gravimetry as the only remote sensing technology to monitor subsurface mass variations and thus groundwater storage change for large areas, (2) incorporate and advance a wealth of products on storage compartments of the water cycle that are part of the Copernicus portfolio, and (3) disseminate unprecedented information on changing groundwater storage to the global and European user community, including European-scale use cases of political relevance as a demonstrator for industry potential in the water sector. In combination, the G3P development is a novel and cross-cutting extension of the Copernicus portfolio towards essential information on the changing state of water resources at the European and global scale. G3P is timely given the recent launch of GRACE-FO that opens up the chance for gravity-based time series with sufficient length to monitor climate-induced and human-induced processes over more than 20 years, and to boost European space technology on board these satellites.

In this project, FutureWater is in charge of a case which aims to prototype and calibrate a Groundwater Drought Index based on the G3P product, and to integrate it into InfoSequia, the FutureWater’s in-house Drought Early Warning System. The new InfoSequia component will be tested for inherent reliability and flexibility at the basin level in a total area of about 145 000 km2 in Southern Spain which largely relies on groundwater resources. This pilot region comprises three large basins (Segura, Guadalquivir and Guadiana) with many aquifers and groundwater bodies where very severe dynamics of overexploitation and mining have been identified and declared. Unsustainable groundwater development threats the water security in the region, but also the ecological status and preservation of unique and highly protected ecosystems in Europe (e.g., Doñana National Park, Daimiel National Park, Mar Menor coastal lagoon).

To visit the official G3P website, please click on this link: https://www.g3p.eu

Project description

The groundwater discharge of irrigation return flows to the Mar Menor lagoon (Murcia, SE Spain), the largest coastal lagoon in Europe, is among one of the possible causes that would explain the high levels of eutrophication (hypereutrophication) and the several algal blooms accounted in this lagoon ecosystem in the last years. Previous studies, led and/or participated by FutureWater staff (e.g. Contreras et al., 2014; Jiménez-Martínez et al., 2017) suggest that the contribution of groundwater discharges from the Quaternary aquifer to the Mar Menor would reach values much higher than the ones officially recognized.

The construction of subsurface drainage system to intersect the groundwater flows in the surroundings of the lagoon is one of the potential solutions proposed to reduce the load of polluted groundwaters that reach the Mar Menor (Figure 1). Once pumped, these waters can be again reused for irrigation after a desalination and denitrification treatment. A large network of subsurface drainage channels are being currently operated by the Arco Sur-Mar Menor Irrigator Association (Arco Sur IA).

Flows and relationship between the Campo de Cartagena Quaternaty aquifer and the Mar Menor lagoon with (left panel) and without (left panel) a subsurface drainage system.

The Arco-Sur IA has commissioned FutureWater, in collaboration with Hydrogeomodels, this project in order to evaluate the usefulness of these infrastructures, and to explore the possibilities of extending them to the rest of the Campo de Cartagena region. The use of numerical modelling to simulate the groundwater dynamics in the Quaternary aquifer, and to quantify the spatial patterns of groundwater discharge to the Mar Menor lagoon would help to demonstrate the effectiveness of these type of infrastructures, but also to evaluate the best locations and exploitation regimes possible to reduce the discharges to the Mar Menor without compromising the provision of other ecosystem services (e.g. ecological status of coastal wetlands).

The development and calibration of the hydrogeological model for the Quaternary aquifer of the Campo de Cartagena has been rested on an intense collection of all the data available in the region, and their integration with the most advanced hydrological and hydrogeological simulation techniques. This hydrogeological model is considered a key tool to support decision making, and to evaluate the potential effectiveness of different water management strategies proposed for the region (pumping batteries, drainage networks), but also for assessing the potential impacts that would emerge due to land cover and climate change scenarios.

Objective and Methods

The objective of this study is to quantify the water balance in the Campo de Cartagena, to simulate the groundwater flow regime in the Quaternary aquifer, and to evaluate the spatial pattern of groundwater discharge to the Mar Menor lagoon for average and extreme hydrological conditions, through the calibration and implementation of a hydrogeological model.

The project has been organized into four tasks (Figure 2): 1) collection and processing of input data, 2) hydrological modeling, 3) hydrogeological modeling, and 4) reporting and and outreach activities.

Methodological diagram and execution phases.

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IMPREX exploits the idea that understanding present-day risks is an effective starting point for adapting to unprecedented future events. Taking into account potential climate trajectories and a collection of experiences in various vulnerable water-related sectors, IMPREX will put current management decisions and practices in the context of an emergent future. In addition, the way in which current operational forecasts of potentially high-impact events at various time scales are utilized can still be improved, not only by enhancing the forecasting skill, but also by customizing the information to the stakeholders’ needs, practice and decision context.

The core elements of IMPREX consist of three interconnected science- and user-oriented actions: (a) an improvement in the forecasting and foresighting tools and climatologies of hydrological extremes, (b) application of these developments in the daily practice of stakeholders across different sectors and regions, and (c) dissemination of the experience gained from the sectoral impact  analyses to a wider audience by means of user-friendly assessment summaries of impact and adaptation strategies, periodic risk outlooks, and bulletins for public communication.

imprex pict
IMPREX will improve predictability at short-medium and seasonal time scales (upper two block arrows), and will develop new concepts to allow translation of the experience with present day events into the future (bottom arrow).

IMPREX will deliver:

  • A measurable improvement in forecast skill of meteorological and hydrological extremes in Europe and their impacts
  • A demonstration of the value of the information on hydrological impacts to relevant stakeholders through a set of representative case studies.
  • Novel risk assessment concepts that respond to limitations of current methods and practices
  • A pan-European assessment of existing and adapted risk management and adaptation strategies
  • A periodic outlook of expected hydrological and water resources (trans-)sectoral risks in Europe linking outputs to existing systems such as the European Flood Awareness System and the European Drought Observatory.

FutureWater leads the coordination of the “Agriculture and Drought” sectoral Work Package. This WP specifically aims to study and evaluate the use of IMPREX weather forecasts and predictions, climate variability, and drought indicators to assess agricultural drought risk and impacts over four case studies and at the pan-European level. An special emphasis will be placed in:

  • improving our understanding on the relationships between climate variability, hydrological drought indicators, and agricultural production and losses and, finding these relations in four Mediterranean case basins
  • developing downscaling methods in order to provide agricultural drought indicators useful at the basin level and according to the specific needs of the case study basins and their currently operational drought management systems.
  • designing appropriate tools and communication/dissemination channels for generating effective and transparent drought alerts to water managers and stakeholders in the agricultural sector.
  • quantifying the impact of changing rainfall, evapotranspiration and atmospheric recycling dynamics on water fluxes, flows, stocks, consumption and the provision of services to agriculture for the major basins of Europe using a generic analytical framework (WA+).

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Recent studies from the IPCC indicate that Europe is particularly prone to increased risks of river and coastal floods, droughts resulting in water restrictions and damages from extreme weather such as heat events and wildfires. Evaluations also show a huge potential to reduce these risks with novel adaptation strategies. Researchers, innovators and incubators develop innovative products and services to reduce the increased climate change risks. Many of these innovations however hardly arrive at the markets. BRIGAID BRIdges the GAp for Innovations in Disaster resilience.

The BRIGAID’s initiative is supported by three pillars:

  1. BRIGAID takes into account the geographical variability of climate-related hazards and their interaction with socio-economic changes,
  2. BRIGAID establishes structural, on-going support for innovations that are ready for validation in field tests and real life demonstrations and
  3. BRIGAID develops a framework that enables an independent, scientific judgement of the socio-technological effectiveness of an innovation.
BRIGAID’s conceptual approach

Particularly, this project (a) brings actively together innovators and end-users in Communities of Innovation, resulting in increased opportunities for market-uptake; (b) contributes to the development of a technological and performance standards for adaptation options by providing a Test and Implementation Framework (TIF) and test facilities throughout Europe; (c) Improves innovation capacity and the integration of new knowledge by establishing an innovators network and (d) strengthens the competitiveness and growth of companies with the support of a dedicated business team. Finally BRIGAID aims to develop business models and market outreach to launch innovations to the market and secure investments in innovations beyond BRIGAID’s lifetime.

FutureWater contributes in two ways: it coordinates the work package on Droughts which performs and extensive stocktaking, testing, and business development process for a large number of drought-related solutions. Secondly, two solutions of FutureWater itself undergo the BRIGAID testing process: a) The Infosequia drought operational platform for the surveillance and integral management of droughts, and b) Flying Sensors to detect drought-related impacts on crops, and to support precision agriculture and smart farming.

Project presentation