View on the former Turia riverbed.
With around 800.000 inhabitants in the city and more than 1.5 million people living in the surrounding metropolitan area, Valencia is the third
largest city in Spain. Founded as a Roman colony in 138 BC, Valencia is located on the east coast of Spain. The city of Valencia has a historical relationship with water, both marine and fresh,
as the city spreads along the margins of the Turia River and by the Mediterranean Sea. Contemporary Valencia is a combination of architectural styles that originate from a rich history and
cultural diversity, ranging from gothic to baroque and from Islamic to modernist buildings. More than 2 million tourists visited Valencia in 2017. The features that tourists mention more often
about the city are the nice weather all year round, the local beaches, the Mediterranean gastronomy and the cultural heritage and regional traditions, such as the “Valencian Falles”. Climate change is a major concern for regional and local
administration on the Valencian region. The main risks and vulnerabilities that climate change will bring to Valencia have already been profoundly studied, and nowadays the focus of research is
shifting towards studying the best adaptation strategies available for the region.
The city of Valencia is surrounded by what is known as the
“Valencian orchard” or “l’Horta”, an agricultural landscape with deep cultural significance. The main crops of the region are citrus, vegetables and rice. L’Horta as we know it today was
developed during the medieval Islamic period. During that period irrigation ditches and small dams were constructed near the Turia and Jucar Rivers to irrigate crops. Many of these historical features still exist today and are still in use by farmers. The long tradition of water
management in the area is also reflected in the existence of long-standing institutions like the Tribunal de las Aguas (Water Tribunal). This tribunal, a customary court, dates back its origins
to Islamic or even Roman days. To this day, this court still settles irrigation disputes of farmers in nine irrigation communities around the city of Valencia.
The Albufera Natural Park, less than 11 km
south of Valencia, is a freshwater lagoon and its surroundings rice plots. The lagoon is the main feature of the Valencian Albufera Natural Park, with a surface area of 21,120 hectares. The
wetland and lagoon area has a high biodiversity sustained by its water ecosystem and the fields surrounding the lake, which are used for growing rice since the 18th century. Rice fields have
great economic and environmental importance. Some of the species that live in the lake also use the surrounding rice crops, where sometimes water quality is better. This includes the grey heron,
the great cormorant and the Hermann's tortoise.
The urban water demand of Valencia and its metropolitan area is shared between the Jucar and the Turia River. Water for domestic purposes
requires two water purification plants working 24 hours during the whole year. These plants are operated by the local company Aguas de Valencia. Waste water is treated in 19 treatment plants. The
EMSHI Company alone is responsible for treating the waste water generated by more than 1.6 million people.
The Climate Change Adaptation Plan for the City of Valencia
2050 describes three main climate change impacts on the city. These are extreme climate and weather events (like droughts and floods), increase of average temperature and the decrease in
average rainfall. According to the Adaptation Plan, water is by far the most vulnerable resource (in terms of both availability and quality) for planning the city in the 2050 horizon. Water, as a
scarce and valuable resource, is linked to effects on biodiversity of water dependent ecosystems (such as the Albufera), public health and agriculture.
The close relationship between the city and its water resources has already been proved in the past by extreme events such as the Valencia flood
in October of 1957 that caused the death of at least 81 people and motivated the deflection of the Turia River to circumvent the city. However, water scarcity and droughts are the main concern of
the regional administration.
Studies published in the Journal of Water Resources Planning and Management have estimated that the annual cost of climate change for agriculture
in the Jucar River basin will amount to 8M € per year. This predicted loss is the result of the combined effect of increased temperature and decreased rainfall.
Tourism is another important economic activity of the Valencian region. Studies commissioned by the regional government predict an impact of
climate change on Valencia and the surroundings regions. A reduction in the climate comfort index due to higher average temperatures is the main concern of the administration for the tourism
Given the predicted adverse effects of climate change it is important for the City of Valencia to develop adaptation strategies for the future
climate. This adaptation response to climate change must include both government and civil society, and the multiple economic, social and ecological sectors of this area. The role of scale is
also critical for the development of successful adaptation strategies in cities. Nowadays, the studied adaptation measures for the region do not involve —mostly— exciting and new infrastructures
such as the Turia River detour. The new studies deal with the analysis of new management strategies, smaller innovations and climate services that have large-scale impact.
At the local scale, the Valencia city council has already started implementing adaptation actions for a different climate future. In the
long-term, the Mitigation and
Adaptation Plan for the City of Valencia sets goals such as the development of a low-emission energy system, the conservation of the “Horta” landscape and the promotion of green local
markets. A “bottom-up” approach is proposed to achieve these goals. The objective is, first, to inform and educate the people of the city about the new global scenario, to encourage the
development of a sustainable green economy, promote responsible use of the city and, along the way, designing an efficient city according to the citizens demands. For example, the “cycling ring”
is one of the first steps towards a new model for citizen mobility in Valencia. The cycling infrastructure, of which the first section was completed in in 2017, aims to promote bicycles as a
reliable and safe alternative for moving around in the city. At the same time, the city administration aims to reduce the CO2 emissions of Valencia by renewing the bus fleet and improving the
energy efficiency in public buildings.
The regional government is currently working on developing the “Valencian strategy for climate change and energy, 2030”. This document aims to
coordinate the adaptation and mitigation strategies between local and regional administrations, taking a holistic approach to the climate change challenges.
The adaptation cycle to climate change for the city of Valencia is nowadays focused in the proposition and study of new adaptation measures. Some
early measures for adaptation and mitigation have already being implemented (cycling ring, renewal of bus fleet) and their positive results have motivated both local administration and citizens
to dive more deeply into the concept of sustainable development.
The Valencian Albufera Natural Park and lagoon, at just 11 km of the city of Valencia, provides easy access to experience nature, boat trip and watch exotics birds. The reserve is a Ramsar Site
in the list of wetlands of international importance for birds. A very extensive area (223 km²) of rice fields surround the lake and create a landscape with deep cultural significance.
This ezine has been produced for INNOVA
Wim Timmermans and Fokke de Jong (Wageningen Environmental Research)
with Adrià Rubio Martín (Universitat Politècnica de València - UPV)
and Daphne de Bruijn and Harry Harsema (Blauwdruk Publishers)