Case Studies - Waterboards - Spain

Case study: Regadío de Arbanta


Type of institution for collective action

Irrigation community

Name/description institution  

Regadío de Arbanta





Name of city or specified area 


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

Arbanta is the name of a plain located at 42º 30’ N, 2º 18’ W, view location (Google Maps). It has been cultivated from (at least) the sixteenth century onward up until the present day.

Surface area and boundaries

The canal runs over a distance of about fourteen kilometers from North to South. The surface  of vineyards irrigated in 1617 was 88 hectares.

Foundation/start of institution, date or year

February 1, 1598

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

In this year, the irrigation community was founded and the first byelaws were approved.

Foundation act present?


Description of Act of foundation

The assembly of neighbours and councillors of Bargota drew up before the notary the rules for the government of the irrigation community of Arbanta. The government structure included an executive delegate or deputy (diputado), a steward (mayordomo), and an irrigation worker (regador). The powers of the deputy were to establish and impose penalties on violators of the order of irrigation, to punish those who would open waterways in the channel, and to mediate disputes among irrigators:


'Y el dicho Diputado aga y hordene las penas de los que regaren contra la horden que él diere en el riego, que son las que están puestas, y a los que abriere y rompieren las sequías; y si hubiere diferencias entre particulares los aberigüe y ponga en horden y paz como biere q(ue) combiene; y mandar ejecutar las dichas penas'


['And the said Representative shall impose and order the penalties against those who had irrigated in contradiction with the irrigation order he had issued and to those who opened and broke the ditches, [the penalties] being those which are indicated; and in case there were disagreements between individuals, [the Representative] shall sort them out and shall institute order and peace as he sees fit according to the circumstances; and [he] shall order the execution of the penalties']


Meanwhile, the steward had to monitor the maintenance of the infrastructure the irrigators had to perform, to verify the payments, and to collect the fines imposed on those convicted:


'Y el dicho Mayordomo anssí bien tener quenta y cuydado de la limpia de las dichas sequías y regadíos y reçevir y cobrar las penas de los culpados que en los gastos que fueren neçesarios y q(ue) den quenta de las dichas penas y gastos').


['And the said Administrator [shall] take care of the cleaning of the said non-irrigated and irrigated lands, and [shall] receive from and impose the penalties on the offenders for the amounts required to compensate damages and shall report the said penalties and expenses']


The charges were annual and had to be renewed before every Day of Assumption of Mary (15th of August). On this day, the resigning deputies together with the newly appointed deputies had to set the irrigation order to be followed from then onwards:


'Y que en cada un año el dicho día de N(uest)ra Señora de Agosto se dé la orden q(ue) combenga en el riego de aquel año los officiales nuebos y biexos y otras personas q(ue) ellos quisieren y estarán y pasarán por la horden que ellos yzieren, dieren y mandaren en todos ellos ni eçeder dello en cossa alguna'


['And every year, on the aforementioned day of Our Lady of August [15th of August], the order necessary for the annual irrigation shall be issued […] the new and old officers and other people they requested shall observe the order they had issued, handed over and ordered to all of them without exceeding in any way']


Additionally, the byelaws allocated the fines imposed on offences committed in a local oak forest (“El Nobal”) to the maintenance of irrigation infrastructure. Penalties for introducing flocks and herds, and for cutting trees or firewood were specified; these penalties would be doubled when the offences were committed at night.

Year of termination of institution


Year of termination: estimated or confirmed?

Confirmed: in this year the use of the water of the reservoir was auctioned for the last time.

Act regarding termination present?



Description Act of termination

There is no formal act of termination. The last time that the use of the water of the reservoir was auctioned by the town council was in 1967.

Reason for termination?

Fallen into disuse.

Recognized by local government?


Concise history of institution


In the second half of the sixteenth century, the neighbours of Bargota, encouraged by the high prices of wine, developed commercial agriculture and expanded the plantation of vineyards on a plain near the river Ebro, around six kilometres south of the village. The city of Viana contested  this land reclamation before the royal court of the kingdom of Navarra, because it went against their grazing rights. The court however favoured the planters in 1595, confirming their ownership claims over the land concerned. It was in this context that the neighbours of Bargota decided to build a channel to transfer the flow of a small stream (Río Mariñanas) that runs east of the vineyards planted in the southern plains. In 1599, the works reached a length of about six kilometers of channel ('una legua poco más o menos'). During the first years of the seventeenth century, they built a dam twenty-one meters long, two meters thick and about three meters high, in order to store water and to regulate its use more efficiently. This work was completed in 1617.


It has to be noted that between the water intake point, north of the village, and the southern irrigated plains, rainfall varies from 800-1000 millimeters per year to 450-500 millimeters per year.


Cadastral Map of Bargota (1883). Source: Gobierno de Navarra, Riqueza Territorial, Planos del Catastro por masas de cultivo, 1883. Ref. ES/NA/AACF/1/001/02/02.08/02.08.02/



On May 28, 1599, the High Court of Navarra upheld the ordinances drafted and approved by the council of Bargota in 1598. The ordinances define a basic hierarchy of government and also state that the fines imposed on the encroachment of water, pasture, and firewood would be specifically used to afford the maintenance of irrigation infrastructure. New byelaws were approved in 1635, 1726, and 1804.


The byelaws of 1635 fixed the order of irrigation. The turns followed a circular order from north to south. The location at which the irrigation cycle finished, would be the starting point of the irrigation cycle for the next year:


'empezar a regar por la parte de arriba empezando desde la balsa de las viñas… y sino se acabaren de regar las viñas… donde parare el agua el año siguiente se haya de empezar y empiece a regar las viñas que de allí abajo estuvieren… y acabadas de regar todas las viñas y majuelos, vuelva el agua a empezar a regar por las primeras viñas de arriba, y esta orden se observe y guarde todos los años para siempre jamás'


['to start irrigating from the lands located at the top, beginning from the pond of the vineyards… and, in case the irrigation of the vineyards had not finished, … wherever the irrigation had stopped [one year], the irrigation of the following year shall start at the vineyards located down from there shall start … and once all the vineyards and majuelos [a type of plant] will be irrigated, the irrigation shall  start again from the first vineyards located at the top, and this order shall be observed and kept every year for eternity']


Those who had been called to irrigate on their turn during the irrigation season and did not irrigate, would lose their irrigation rights for the remainder of the irrigation season. The irrigation season started every year on Saint-Michael's Day (September 29) and ended on Saint-John-Baptist's Day (June 24). During this period, all the farmers were obliged to respect the order of irrigation. During the summer, the lack of water and the byelaws allowed to freely use the scarce rain fall. The farmers were obliged to save the water, conducting it by straight grooves ('hacer levadas o canteros de seis cepas de ancho y doce de largo, o cavar para que mejor se pueda regar'). They also had to clean the channel and its branches during the maintenance works performed between the Day of the Assumption of Mary (August 15) and All Saints' Day (November 1).


The byelaws refer to the vineyards that had been planted south of Arbanta plain, on a fluvial terrace nearer to the Ebro river. This area ("Las Planillas") had no irrigation rights by itself but was allowed to make use of the resource, in case there was an abundance of water. So, the new plantations were legalised, paying an annual fee of six reales for each obrada for a period of six consecutive years ('a seis reales de cada obrada pagados en seis años') and being the construction and maintenance of the prolonged channel at the cost of the owners of this term.


The byelaws of 1726 (March 1) reiterated and expanded many of these rules. The most noticeable aspects are that these byelaws prohibited to irrigate new lands, and claimed the prior right of the original vineyard of Arbanta. It seems that between 1635 and 1726 the owners in the southern plain of Las Planillas were able to irrigate their lands inside the seasonal turn, but the byelaws stated that those lands only could be irrigated in humid years:


'llegado el orden de regar las viñas de las Planillas, si el agua que bajare de dicho regadío por su poquedad no fuere bastante para regar…, el Diputado que fuere la pueda mandar subir a las viñas de Arbanta'


['Once the time for the irrigation of the vineyards of Las Planillas [a geographical site] has come, in case the [amount of] water would be insufficient enough to irrigate…, the Representative in charge will be allowed to redirect the water to the vineyards of Arbanta [a geographical site]']


The farmers were obliged again to save the water digging wider grooves ('levadas de a diez cepas de ancho y veinte cepas de largo'). The maintenance of the infrastructure had to be executed and paid for by all the farmers:


'que para conservación de dicho regadío el Lugar haya de echar en cada un año a limpiar dicho regadío una Vereda desde el principio del regadío hasta más abajo del lugar'


['that, for the preservation of the irrigated lands, the Lugar [literally ‘the Place’ but here meaning local government or council] shall clean every year one vereda [a path 20 meters wide] of the irrigated land from its beginning and beyond the place']


Foreign owners had to pay a tax per surface unit ('a tarja por cada obrada en cada un año') before All Saints' Day. The steward (mayordomo) was in charge of the maintenance works and the collecting of tax.


 The byelaws imposed severe penalties for those who stole water. In case the offender was an owner in the Arbanta plain, he had the right of appeal in a hearing before the deputy. The highest penalty was reserved for those who dared to force the key system: the reservoir house with 'his slice of crushed stone, door, and lock'.


The byelaws of October 25, 1804 wanted to distribute 'more equal and with more alacrity the benefit of irrigation'. Some practices of irrigation ('costumbre de regar a escaño lleno de agua') were prohibited and specific procedures were obliged, in order to make efficient use of the resource:


'debe regarse a pasa agua sin poder cerrar los portillos de los escaños con el fin de rebalsar el agua en ellos, ni tampoco podrán cruzar agua'


['The irrigation must be performed as the water flows without the possibility to close the small lock-gates of the escaños in order to dam in the water, and it shall not be possible to cut the waterflow either']


During the first half of the nineteenth century, the system of assignment of the water changed. The water of the reservoir from then on was auctioned each year.  The account books of the community  from 1853 onward show the income obtained each year from the sales of the reservoir water (Figure 1)


Figure 1: Regadío de Arbanta, 1853-1967, Income for the sale at auction of the reservoir water (expressed in constant pesetas of 1995). Sources: Bargota Municipal Archive, Books 8, 11, 113; Boxes 50, 56, 60, 63, 64, 67, 69, 77, 80, 86, 89, 92. Price deflactor: Prados de la Escosura (2003, 686-93).


As Figure 2 shows, the auction of the reservoir water concentrated in Winter, from December to May, reaching the highest prices in March, co-inciding with the beginning of the vegetative cycle of the vine. The scarcity of water made that these were complementary irrigations. During the summer, except for occasional rainfall, the drought prevented the use of this infrastructure. There were even many years when the water did not get auctioned, since it did not came to fill the reservoir (1876, 1882, 1896, 1898-9, 1902, 1909, 1912-3, 1930, 1932, 1939-44, 1946, 1949, 1955, 1960-4).


Figure 2: Auction of the reservoir water between 1945 and 1967: Number of sales and value at constant prices. Sources: Bargota Municipal Archive, Book 113; Boxes 19, 86, 89, 92, 96, 101, 104, 111.

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

  • 1595: The royal court of Navarra acknowledged the property rights of the vineyard planters in Arbanta
  • 1598: The assembly of owners, residents in Bargota, approved the byelaws that created the institution
  • 1617: The works on the reservoir were completed. The city of Viana contested the byelaws that the village of Bargota had approved by itself for the Regadío de Arbanta, appointed officials and imposed fines, against the Law, because the village is depended and subordinated as a neighbourhood to this city.
  • 1635: The assembly of owners approved new and more specific byelaws
  • 1726: The third set of byelaws of the Regadío de Arbanta was approved
  • 1750: The city of Viana contested the right of the mayordomo (resident in Bargota) to sell the water of the reservoir. The city asked a change in the byelaws in order to design two officers (diputados), one from Bargota and the other from Viana.
  • 1804: The byelaws were completed with some rules on the procedures of irrigation
  • 1818: Bargota obtained independence (privilegio de villazgo) from the municipality of Viana
  • 1824: The lower section of the channel was completely rebuilt
  • First half of the 19th century: the system of allocation of the water changed. The equal share of the water by the landowners was abandoned in favour of the sale at auction of the reservoir water
  • 1854: New byelaws were approved
  • 1923: The accounting of the irrigation community started to get intertwined with the accounting of the municipality
  • 1967: The last auction of the reservoir water was celebrated


Numbers of members (specified)

In 1617, there were 95 owners of land in the plain of Arbanta. Most of them (68) had less than 1 hectare and 4 owners possessed between 5 and 8.50 hectares. So, the GINI index was low (0.531).

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

All the owners of the land sited in the plain of Arbanta had membership rights.

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

Ownership of land included in irrigated area.

Specific reasons regarding banning members from the institution?

Not specified.

Advantages of membership?

  • Participation in decision-making.
  • Use right of the water

Obligations of members? 

To contribute to the maintenance of the infrastructure in kind (physical work) and/or in cash (taxes).

Literature on case study

Prados de la Escosura, Leandro, 2003. El Progreso económico de España : 1850-2000. Bilbao : Fundación BBVA.

Sources on case study

  • Royal and General Archive of Navarre (AGN)
    • Tribunales Reales, Procesos, nos. 89577, 231249, and 53178
  • Municipal Archive of Bargota
    • Books 8, 11 and 113
    • Boxes 50, 56, 60, 63, 67, 69, 77, 80, 86, 89, 92, 96, 101, 104, and 111

Links to further information on case study:


Case study composed by

José-Miguel Lana-Berasain, Public University of Navarra; translations by Miguel Laborda Pemán




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