Sources - Waterboards - Spain

Description of sources 

Literature: travel books, dictionaries, monographs, reports

Since the second half of the eighteenth century travelers and scholars wrote extensively on irrigation in Spain, with special attention to the Levant. In many cases these were foreigners, offering a picturesque view but with specific interest in the techniques and modes of organization of irrigation. This interest was sometimes crop-specific, such as rice. Among these the most prominent foreign authors are Ponz (1781), Jaubert de Passa (1844), Musso Fontes (1847), Aymard (1864), Brunhes (1902), and Buckley and Brown (1906). In other cases it were Spanish authors who wrote and published their observations, often in order to establish a diagnosis and suggest improvements. Among those dealing with the period of the Enlightenment the following authors are prominent: Cavanilles (1795), Sástago (1796), Laporta (1798), and Betancourt (1803).


In the late eighteenth century the Royal Academy of History tackled an ambitious project for a Gazetteer, of which two volumes, related to the Basque Provinces and Navarre, were finally published (Real Academia de la Historia 1802). In the middle of the nineteenth century, Pascual Madoz successfully managed to complete a lengthy editorial Gazetteer (1845-52), comprising the whole country. In both publications, interesting information on water use is to be found.


The most complete work on Spanish irrigation in this period however is undoubtedly the Llauradó’s monograph (1870), which reviews the status of water harvesting per river basin. Another work of interest that addresses the legal aspects of harnessing resources in the eve of the adoption of the first Water Act is the work of Franquet Beltrán (1864). Other published works by Spanish authors during the nineteenth century study elaborate on the resources of specific localities and regions, with greater detail. Amongst those are the publications of Yanguas y Miranda (1828), Mancha (1836), García Otero (1847), Mesa (1864), Palomino (1877), Satorras (1878), Royo (1878), Díaz Cassou (1889), Gea (1903), and Ibarra Ruiz (1914).


By the early twentieth century the intellectual influence of the Aragonese Joaquin Costa inspired the policy of the government in successive National Plans of Water (1902, 1909, 1916, 1919, 1933; however little operational until 1926), raising a watershed regulation and planning of water uses. Hydraulic engineering aspects were discussed in the publications of Alzola Minondo (1899), Danvila Collado (1900), and Costa (1911). The traditional aspects of management and water use are discussed in the works of Costa (1902), Altamira (1902), Vergara Martín (1909), and Ruiz Funes (1916).


In the early twentieth century the Agricultural Advisory Board (Junta Consultiva Agronómica) also wrote and published two official reports (1904, 1916) on the status of irrigation in Spain, including abundant statistical data.

Notarial Records

The notarial archives contain a large amount of information of undoubted importance for the study of irrigation and irrigation communities. Works contracts, mortgages or accounts rendered by the trustees of funds provide us with information on expenses and investments. The "powers of attorney" to represent the community before the courts or other forums also provide relevant information. The main drawback of this rich documentation is the dispersion of these sources, and the enormous time and labor intensive process required from the researcher. However, for local studies the notarial archives are an irreplaceable resource.

Regulations: Fueros, sentencias, and ordenanzas

Medieval letters of privileges (fueros and cartas pueblas), granted by kings to towns and cities for the purpose of attracting people sometimes contain provisions on the use of water.


A second set of regulations are arbitral verdicts handed down by judges or representatives of the monarch intervening in conflicts between villages and communities.


The third type of regulation that we find are local ordinances. Two types of ordinances can be discerned:

  • Municipal ordinances: by-laws, prepared by the municipalities, often contain provisions relating to the use of irrigation water and urban consumption, along with other standards relating to diverse topics such as sanitation and street lighting, markets and forestry and pasture.
  • The ordinances of the irrigation communities are specific to the management and use of irrigation water. Some of these ordinances were reproduced in publications such as Jaubert de Passa (1844) and Diaz Cassou (1889). Water Laws of 1866 and 1879 prompted the formation of water users' unions, which were provided with ordinances or regulations, which were often printed.

Municipal Archives

In the archives of the municipalities are preserved documents of different types that deal with irrigation, in many cases duly identified in the inventory and catalog file documentaries. Since in many cases, especially in small villages, the powers of the council and irrigation institutions overlapped, it is common for municipal archives to hold the archive of the union of irrigators. If not, municipal funds however offer information of interest such as cadastres, allowing to identify the owners of irrigable land, municipal accounts (often including amounts spent on water infrastructure, such as the defense against river floods, dams, ditches, drains, etc), rural ordinances (often including water-sharing rules), and other documents of interest.

Archives of the Irrigation Commnunities

Many files of irrigation unions (especially in small towns) are deposited in municipal archives, and therefore relatively accessible to the researcher. Larger irrigation communities often have their own offices and archives. Here you can find documentation varying from minute books of the board of government to works projects, budgets and annual accounts, lawsuits and judgments, correspondence, etc. Until now, this source has been little used so far.

Archives of the Hydrographic Confederations

Since its inception in 1926, the Hydrographic Confederations deal with the governance and management of large Spanish river basins. Its administrative files keep extensive documentation on the uses of water in its different variants (agricultural, urban, industrial, energy). The characteristics and activities of these bodies may meet in their websites:


The Hydrographic Confederation of the River Ebro (Confederación Hidrográfica del Ebro) was the one that displayed a more intense activity since its founding. Recently the monthly magazine published between 1927 and 1933 has been digitized and posted online, click here to view.

Visual documents: maps, plans, paintings, photographs

In Spanish archives and museums, visual documents of various types that refer to management and water use, varying from maps and sketches to paintings and photographs can be found. Maps and drawings may be found in cartographic funds of the provincial archives. The museums contain paintings that either in a direct way (e.g., the paintings of landscapes) or indirectly (by way of portraits funds) provide us with information on hydraulic installations. The rich photographic collections of museums and archives contain images of various kinds, involving photographs of waterworks (dams, canals, reservoirs), pictures of social and religious activities (prayers, processions), and photographs related to water trials (such as the pictures in the Tribunal de las Aguas in Valencia). Some institutions, such as the Confederación Hidrográfica del Ebro, have digitized its photographic collections and made ​​available to the public on its website.


Finally, historical as well as present-day aerial photography - and also Google Earth - offer visual information that can be interpreted and incorporated into the study of irrigation.

Material remnants: architecture, engineering, archeology

Direct sources of great interest are those material structures which have been preserved and are either still in use (buildings, dams, canals, reservoirs) or no longer in use. Archaeological findings also provide us with material of great interest to know the former layout and operation of water mills, water pipe networks, et cetera.



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