Water Tribunal

Arbitrating Public Property


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About the project Edit

In Valencia Spain a Water Tribunal is known worldwide for its unique way of mediating a community's farming-irrigation conflicts pertaining to water management. This traditional practice is respected so much so that - its rulings are not questioned by offenders. This is one of the few remaining ancestral arbitration practices for public property in the world.


In what ways is this project unique and creative? Edit

The Water Tribunal in Valencia has been established to resolve conflicts over the use of water transported from the Turia River to the the north-west of Valencia - through canals dating back to Roman times as far as the fruit and vegetables fields. Its creation dates back to, at least, the Arab presence in Spain from 960 under the reign of Abderraman III. However, it is possible that this practice was introduced during Roman times.
The Water Tribunal in Valencia holds public hearings to arbitrate the dispute over the distribution of water of the eight canals irrigating the 17,000 hectares that make up the Valencian huerta, which produces citrus fruits, rice, grapes and peaches throughout Spain and for export.
When the sound of the cane rings off the granite floor, eight men sit on chairs before the Door of the Apostles. They are not judges, but "syndicates", elected democratically for a two-year-term to represent the owners of all eight canals. They do not require any legal training, but they should nevertheless, be the direct farmers of their land, live, and have an established reputation as an "honest person". They immediately know what the rotations and watering periods are, what the obligation is when it comes to distributing water proportionally, and they ensure that the canals that cross their lands are properly maintained - so that water can flow to other farmer's fields. All of which can cause conflict among farmers.

What is the social value of this project? Edit

The Tribunal rules on colleague offenders who have not respected the regulations established by the farming communities (which distribute water from 9 irrigation systems in the area).
Traditional farmers perceive being judged publicly as an affront, which is why prior agreements are reached in general.
The rule is simple: water is tied to land and its distributed according to its abundance and in proportion to the size of the cultivated land. (The exploitation of a new field is subject to the farmer's conditions).

The procedure is as follows: the offender receives a visit from the network guard and is called upon to appear before the Tribunal on the following Thursday. On the following Thursday, the facts are set out at the side of the cathedral. Those accused can defend themselves and call witnesses. Everything is done orally.
If the case is simple, the decision is issued after deliberation. If a site visit is required to investigate the extent of the problem, the judgement is put off until next Thursday. The tribunal judges only deal with cases involving the farming communities, which they themselves do not belong to.

If a member of the community is judged, the judge in question does not participate in the judgement, but resumes their role in the next trial. The Tribunal's verdict is final and compensation is based on the criteria established by the community rulings. Tribunal hearings are held outside and are exclusively in Valencian. Each person acts on their on behalf, without a lawyer, persecutor, or written document, although it is acceptable to call witnesses or request for a visual inspection of the land - if necessary.

The judges are not paid and farmers that are found guilty must pay for the costs associated with network maintenance, in addition to the fine and any repair costs if the offence has caused damage.

What is the potential of this project to expand and develop? Edit

Despite its quaint tradition (the "proceedings" are rendered in Valencian), the Tribunal has true power. It has also been recognized elsewhere by Spanish kings since its inception, including the current monarchs, and it has seen its legitimacy confirmed to the 1978 Constitution and has achieved autonomy status in the Autonomous Community of Valencia. This Tribunal model has been established in other farming communities and has exported to South America. Finally, UNESCO, recognizing its effectiveness has even proposed the city of Valencia to be home to an international centre for preventing and managing conflicts over water.
This type of institution serves as an example for irrigation networks that are being created today in developing countries, where this simple model of direct democracy can be applied (eg, Bagré in Burkina Faso).

What was the triggering factor of this project? Edit

What is the business model of this project? Edit


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