Case Studies - Waterboards - Spain

Case study: Albalá de Tudela   


Type of institution for collective action

Waterboard (Community of Irrigation communities)

Name/description institution  

Albalá de Tudela (River Queiles)





Name of city or specified area 

River Queiles Valley

Further specification location (e.g. borough, street etc.)

South of Navarra (Spain), right bank of the river Ebro. 

Surface area and boundaries

The river Queiles originates in the province of Soria, on the north side of Sierra del Moncayo. The river takes a northeasterly direction to the village of Los Fayos, where it receives water from another stream (Barranco del Val). After passing Tarazona and Torrellas, the river enters the province of Navarra to the east of the town of Monteagudo. It follows the vicinity of Barillas, Tulebras, Cascante, and Murchante, leading to the right bank of the Ebro River after crossing the town of Tudela.


It has a length of 40 km, 16 of which run in Navarra. Its basin covers an area of 523 square kilometers (of which 171 square kilometers in Navarra). The river bridges a height differece of 630 meters from its source to its mouth at 245 meters above sea level.


Flow measurements recorded ​​in Los Fayos provide an annual figure of 17 cubic hectometers, and feature a Mediterranean rainfall regime slightly influenced by melting snow. The maximum flow period is from November to May, peaking around March. The droughts usually last about 90 days.


Nine towns and villages participated in the Albalá de Tudela: Tudela, Ablitas, Barillas, Cascante, Monteagudo, Murchante, Tulebras, Urzante (all in the Kingdom of Navarra), and Malón (the latter being in the Kingdom of Aragón). Besides the participating communities of the Albalá, also the town of Tarazona as well as the village of Novallas (both lying within the Kingdom of Aragón) were affected by the irrigation shifts.

Foundation/start of institution, date or year

Before 1220.

Foundation year: is this year the confirmed year of founding or is this the year this institution is first mentioned?

The origin of the shift pattern of distribution of irrigation water from the river Queiles is unknown. It was described in detail for the first time in the ordinances of Tudela of 1220, but probably was already in force before the Christian conquest of the city in 1119 (and probably even before the Muslim conquest of the eight century).

Foundation act present?


Description of Act of foundation

The city of Tudela, at the mouth of the river Queiles in the river Ebro had guaranteed access to water resources through a set of rules, rights, and prohibitions, to which the camps, villages and cities located in the lower Rio Queiles had to comply. These rules of distribution of river water were described in detail for the first time in the Tudela Bylaws of 1220. Some clarifications were made ​​in the Bylaws of 1538 and these were updated in the Bylaws of 1819, 1821, and 1835.

Year of termination of institution

The institution as such was not explicitly abolished; in 1850, however, the Irrigation Union of the River Queiles was founded, incorporating a.o. the functions and tasks of the Albalá.

Year of termination: estimated or confirmed?


Act regarding termination present?



Description Act of termination


Reason for termination?


Recognized by local government?


Concise history of institution

The ownership of the water of the river Queiles was divided into monthly shifts between the communities that were entitled to irrigation. The first description of this system is to be found in the ordinances of Tudela of 1220. Each month was divided into three periods of different lengths: the almoceda, the alhema. and the entremés. The almoceda began at sunrise on the 22nd of each month and ended on the 26th, lasting four days and nights. The alhema began at sunrise on the 26th and was of variable duration, depending on the location and the time of year: on the right bank, it lasted five days in ten of the twelve months of the year and four days in April and May. From 1376 onwards, on the left bank the alhema lasted for eight days and nights, except in April and May, when its duration was reduced to seven days. The remainder, between the end of the alhema and the start of the almoceda was called entremés.


During the almoceda the river was divided into two parts, flowing through the ditches Naón (on the left bank of the river) and Mendienique (on the right bank), to irrigate the fields of the villages situated on both banks of the river. On the left, Monteagudo received half of this flow and the other half of this flow was destined for Cascante and Urzante, downstream. On the right bank, the ditch Mendienique distributed half of the flow to Malón, provided a fila (approx. 12 liters per second) of water to the Tulebras Monastery, while the remainder of this flow continued to Barillas and Ablitas. During this period, entitled irrigators were forbidden to either impound water, waste it, or donate it to others, because the overflow caused by rain (which became known as "aguas sobradas") belonged to the city of Tudela.


The city of Tudela, at the mouth of the river, was the sole owner of river water during the alhema. In that period, water diversion ditches were closed (abatimiento), only leaving a minimum flow, regulated according to the cases in a teja (a flow of about 3 liters per second) and half a fila (a fila equalling a flow of  12 liters per second), so that all the water ahould reache the fields of Tudela. However, before reaching the end of Tudela territory, three so-called sesmos, flows of two filas ( about 24 liters per second) of water, were deviated from the main flow to irrigate the fields Murchante, Campoadentro, and Cardete.


During the entremés, being the monthly time period between the end of the alhema and the start of the almoceda, water use was open to all villages in the basin, according to shifts likewise established. The water in the ditch Calchetés on the left bank of the river, was seized by Novallas and Monteagudo, in shifts of three and two days respectively. The water running through the ditch Naón was distributed in shifts of four days between Monteagudo, Tulebras, and Cascante. On the left bank, the village of Malón had the use of the water from the ditch Mendienique for five days, Barillas for four days, Ablitas having the use of the water for the remaining eleven days. The use of excess flow caused by rain (“aguas sobradas”) was the privilege of the city of Tudela.


The problem of the low flow of the river Queiles was partially solved from the first third of the seventeenth century on by the creation of a hydraulic transfer system allowing the use of excess water from the basin of the river Alhama. The expensive work (100,000 pesos) was funded by the city of Tudela, and included a ditch that ran partly underground (Las Minas Canal), and a buffer tank to store excess water (Estanca de Pulguer).


The diagram below summarizes the distribution among different villages and communities of irrigators according to the irrigation shifts (adores) in the three periods indicated. In short, Tudela exclusively enjoyed the use of  river water for 94 days a year on the left and for 58 days a year on the right bank, as well as the use of excess water (aguas sobradas) throughout the whole year. The city government was also entitled to punish the theft of water.


Overview of the historical distribution of irrigation turns in the river Queiles 






Days 22-25

Day 26 +7/8

Days 2/3 to 21


Right bank

Left bank

Right bank

Left bank

Right bank

Left bank



Half flow




Turns of 4 days


1 fila

(12 l/s)





Turns of 4 days




Half flow











Half flow




5 days



The rest




4 days





3 days


11 days






1/6 flow







1/6 flow







1/6 flow




Excess water

Excess water

5 days

(4 in April and May)

8 days

(7 in April and May)

Excess water

Excess water

Source: J.Yanguas y Miranda (1828).



This right of ownership over the river Queiles during the alhema (for Tudela) and almoceda (for the villages of its Albalá) was guaranteed by the powers exercised by the city of Tudela through officers monitoring the waters. The city designated two "water officials" ("alamines"; in 1220 one was elected by the Christians and the other by Muslims) who travelled to the city of Tarazona every 21st of March and 25th of  November to take over the water almoceda and alhema, closing the ditches as they travelled along.  The rest of the months the alamines didn’t arrive to Tarazona to take the water. They went to the point were the Queiles was divided into the canals Naon and Mendienique. From this point, they returned to Tudela closing ditches, because the water was owned by Tudela during the alhema. Other officials, the sprinklers or bailes, accompanied the alamines. The bailes undertook the work of irrigating the fields, in order to avoid the embezzlement of water.


The alamines and the Major of Tudela were in charge of judging and punishing any offences regarding the use of the water, and to impose the penalty of "cutting" (tala; the destruction of the live plants that had been growing fields illegally watered). This penalty remained in force until 1808, when it was replaced by a fine. Water users in the Albalá (which contained six villages, five fields, and three mills) contributed to the payment of the water officials by various payments amounting to 49.70 hectoliter of barley, 1.12 hectoliter of wheat, and 1,272 maravedís in cash. (Yanguas y Miranda 1828, 35)



Diagram of the network of irrigation from the river Queiles in Navarre (18th/19th centuries). Sources: Author's interpretation of map of Queiles River Basin (Archivo General de Navarra, Cartografía, signature 146; Yanguas y Miranda (1828)). Click image to enlarge.



"General map which shows the status of the mother river Queiles from the Kingdom of Aragon until it enters the terms of Tudela, the dams, main ditches, Bracers highest grade, which includes the villages with their jurisdictions and roads", drawn March 15, 1792 by Fernando Martínez Corcín. Source: Archivo general de Navarra, Cartografia, signature 146. Click image for larger version


In terms of hydraulic engineering, the structure of dams, ditches, armbands, and drainage was of great complexity. Various ways of using the water from the river were used, depending on the way the water was being diverted:

  • by azut: damming the water for the purpose of diverting the water
  • by partidero: an angle of stone, dividing the main stream into two streams
  • by boquera: using a hole of certain size, allowing the diversion of a fixed amount of water.


Following the river's left bank, the canal Calchetés took water in terms of Tarazona (Aragon) and irrigated fields in Novallas and Monteagudo, then pouring water into the ditch Naón. The latter took the water in the dam of El Rastrillo, in terms of Novallas (Aragon), and travelled 15 kilometers providing irrigation to 2,542 hectares (according to a report of 1916). In terms of Cascante deviated other two minor ditches called Botero and Muchel. Below this are two other streams diverted to deliver sesmos to Murchante and Cardete. Between the two sesmos, the river received the surplus flow of the river Alhama, through the ditch of Las Minas. There were also other dams that diverted water necessary to operate the four mills in Tulebras, Cascante, and Murchante.


On the right bank of the river, the canal Mendienique diverted a portion of the river flow through a partidero, then split into three streams: one turned west and allowed to redirect water to the river during the alhema, a second one headed south, flowing the fields of Barillas and draining the lagoon Lor, which served as a regulation tank; a third stream went east to irrigate the fields of Ablitas.  According to the report of 1916, the canal Mendienique ran 6 kilometers irrigating 1,350 hectares in Ablitas. Continuing along the right bank, a new dam (La Torrecilla) diverted another portion of flow that later split into two new channels: Munillo and Rumián. The first flowed out in the lagoon Lor, while the second poured its water into a canal born at the downstream end of Cascante (Rio Mayor).


Two other ditches completed the basin of the river before reaching its mouth: first La Rapa watered the fields Urzante, the second one being the canal of Huertas Mayores de Tudela. Completing the network of dams and canals, three small ponds (Lor, Pulguer and Cardete) served as a buffer reservoir for the water supply.


The political and administrative changes of the nineteenth century demanded adaptations of this complex system. Within the communities of irrigators using the water of the  Queiles river some changes occurred. The most important of those changes was the pursuit of creating  equal opportunities regarding the use of water for irrigation. The Diputación de Huertas Mayores of Tudela, created in 1805, set out to find new water resources (unsuccesfully, looking at the recorded number of new sources) and to rearrange irrigation shifts, in order to guarantee that (in the words of José Yanguas and Miranda) "no one should have watered his lands twice before  everyone has watered his land once."

Special events? Highs and lows? Specific problems or problematic periods?

  • 1220:  The ordinances of the city of Tudela described for the first time  distribution of water among Queiles Valley communities by means of a shift-system.
  • 1251:  The King of Aragon, James I the Conqueror, ordered the city of Tarazona not to hinder Tudela in taking possession of the Queiles river.
  • 1320:  The reception of Tudela water officials (alamines) in Tarazona (Aragón) was formalized by ruling.
  • 1376:  A court ruling in a lawsuit between Tudela and Cascante extended the right of alhema of Tudela in the water derived from the left bank of Queiles with three more days.
  • 1509:  The towns of Cascante and Monteagudo signed an agreement recognizing their respective rights to water from the ditch Naón.
  • 1623:  A court decision confirms the right of Tudela  to construct at its expense a ditch to divert surplus water from the river Alhama to the Queiles River Basin. A part of the route of the canal being underground, the ditch was hence named Las Minas. The work was completed in 1628 with the construction of a pond regulator (Pulguer) to store excess water in winter for the period of drought.
  • 1695:  Agreement between the cities of Tudela and Tarazona, ending a law suit filed in 1620. Tarazona agreed to close ("abatir") their ditches in the alhemas in March and November, in order to let all the water come down via the river Queiles to Tudela. The town of Tudela in turn promised to hand over a sum of money (50 ducados) for each one of those "abatimientos." This agreement did however not end the rivalry between the two cities by the river, and Tudela and Tarazona returned to litigate in court in 1723, and again in 1781.
  • 1805:  The Diputación de Huertas Mayores was created in Tudela. It assumed the diffuse powers hitherto exercised by five boards (juntas) of landowners of five terms watered by the river Queiles.
  • 1808:  The sanction of "cutting" (tala) was replaced by a fine.
  • 1851:  The Irrigation Union of the River Queiles in Navarre was legally constituted, taking over the function and tasks of the Albalá.


Numbers of members (specified)

The members of the Albalá were the irrigators communities of Malón, Ablitas, Barillas, Tulebras, Monteagudo, Cascante, Urzante, Murchante, and Tudela. The number of irrigators has not been specified. 

Membership attainable for every one, regardless of social class or family background?

All the owners and tenants with land irrigated by the river Queiles.

Specific conditions for obtaining membership? (Entrance fee, special tests etc.)

No specific conditions for obtaining membership.

Specific reasons regarding banning members from the institution?

Not specified.

Advantages of membership?


Obligations of members? 

To respect and maintain the irrigation shifts, as well as to answer to the other provisions of the ordinances.

Literature on case study

  • Floristán Samanes, Alfredo. 1951.  La Ribera Tudelana de Navarra, Zaragoza, Institución Príncipe de Viana (especially pp.115-20, 132-43).
  • Junta Consultiva Agronómica. 1904. El regadío en España. Resumen hecho por la J.C.A. de las Memorias sobre riegos remitidas por los Ingenieros del Servicio Agronómico Provincial. Madrid : los hijos de M.G.Hernández.
  • Junta Consultiva Agronómica. 1916. Medios que se utilizan para suministrar el riego a las tierras. Distribución de los cultivos en la zona regable. Madrid : Imprenta de los hijos de M.G.Hernández.
  • Lana Berasain, José Miguel. 1999.'Los regadíos navarros entre el Antiguo Régimen y la Guerra Civil. Una aproximación a sus características técnicas e institucionales', in: Gerónimo de Uztariz (14-15) pp.201-20.
  • Llauradó, Andrés. 1878. Tratado de aguas y riegos. Madrid : Imprenta de M.Tello.
  • Madoz, Pascual. 1986 (1st ed. 1845-50). Diccionario geográfico-estadístico-histórico de España y sus posesiones de Ultramar: Navarra.Valladolid : Ambito/Gobierno de Navarra.
  • Real Academia de la Historia. 1802. Diccionario geográfico-estadístico-histórico de España. Madrid, 2 vols..
  • Yanguas y Miranda, José. 1828. Diccionario histórico político de Tudela. Zaragoza.

Sources on case study

  • Archivo General de Navarra (AGN)
    • Cartografía, signature 146
  • Archivo Municipal de Tudela
    • Libros Históricos, books  26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 52, 54, 56, 88, 89, 90, 91, 92, 160.
    • Ordenanzas adicionales a las de mil ochocientos treinta y cinco, que en Junta del Ayuntamiento Constitucional de esta ciudad, de los individuos que lo componían en los tres últimos años y de la Diputación y Veintena de Huertas Mayores y Campos Unidos, se hicieron en 16 de agosto del año actual para el aprovechamiento de las aguas del manantío de Viejón o la Jabala y compensación con otras a la parte de dichos campos a quienes no llegan aquéllas, que ha merecido la aprobación de la Excma .Diputación Provincial y se ha dado también conocimiento de ellas al M . Y. S. Gobernador de la Provincia, según despacho de S. E. de 19 de dicho agosto y comunicación de S.SSa de 3 del corriente . Tudela, 1857.
    • Ordenanzas de Urzante . Tudela, 1871.
    • Ordenanzas de Urzante . Tudela, 1887, 1888.
    • Ordenanzas municipales de la ciudad de Cascante . Año 1847. Tudela, 1874.
    • Ordenanzas para el buen gobierno de los campos de Tulebras . Tudela, 1858.
    • Ordenanzas para el buen orden administrativo de las Huertas Mayores y Campos Unidos de Tudela. Zaragoza, 1878.
    • Ordenanzas, reglamento del Sindicato y reglamento del Jurado para el riego del campo de Valpertuna en Tudela, provincia de Navarra . Tudela, 1873.
  • See also links mentioned underneath

Links to further information on case study:

Case study composed by

José-Miguel Lana-Berasain, Public University of Navarra




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