Andalucia Acequias

Agua! The Andalucia Acequias

The Andalucia Acequias

Stream high up in the Sierra Nevada


Here in Andalucia we’ve had the wettest spring in memory and the water restrictions have been lifted. What this means in practice is we can refill our swimming pool, use more than 200L each per day and relax in the knowledge that our tap water will not be restricted this year.


Drought is serious in Andalucia and we can see the reservoirs ebbing and flowing as the year progresses, every year since we came here, a little less water makes it to the reservoir and climate scientists predict a gradual desertification of much of Southern Spain over the next decade or so.

The Moors

Pine Forest in the Sierra Nevada

Which brings me to the point of this post. Yesterday I walked with the Mountain Nomads through the pine forests and into uncharted territory north of Capileira. At around 2300m above sea level I could just about make out the Rif mountains in Morocco. And it is the Moors that we have to thank for the abundant greenery that covers the lower slopes of the Sierra Nevada and provides for the fountains in the Alhambra palace in Granada.

Between the 8th and 10th centuries, over 1000 years ago, the Moors populated Andalusia and turned it into what they described as Paradise on Earth. They built a 3000 km network of Acequias (water channels) that distributes the snow melt from the top of the Sierra Nevada throughout the slopes and villages, providing water for irrigation, drinking and washing.

Sowing the Water


The distribution of water through Acequias allows water to percolate through the subsoil, feeding into the Aquifers and surfacing as springs and streams further down the mountains.

Mountain Stream flowing towards Capileira

The Moors called this process “sowing the water” and the knowledge of the routes water would take, underground has been passed from generation to generation for a thousand years. The problem is, nowadays the young tend to leave the villages in search of better paid work in Granada and Madrid so the knowledge and skills required to sustain this are threatened.

Enter Capitalism

In parallel with this there are predatory companies aiming to bottle the water and sell it to all and sundry as well as the greenhouses on the coast consuming thousands of gallons a day. These activities encouraged by right wing politicians competing for a place in government. The wetlands on the coast near Almunecar have been systematically undermined by neighbouring farmers drilling for water to feed the more profitable and water hungry Avocado crops at the expense of Olives.

Government Intervention

It seems that what is needed is intervention from the government both to encourage the local communities to continue the maintenance of the Moorish acequia network and to prevent the bottled water initiatives and regulate greenhouses. It’s a difficult problem to resolve, farmers do not make massive money in Andalucia and we can hardly blame them for seeking to make more money from their land, but on the other hand, the greenhouses stretching from Motril east to the Cabo de Gata national park are an obscenity on the landscape equal if not surpassing the horrors of the Costa del Sol where apparently unregulated building aided and abetted by corrupt local politicians wrecked the coastline.


On this trip I travelled light! The Ricoh GR III x is a tiny camera with an APS-C Sensor and a ferociously sharp lens. For this kind of trip it is ideal.

Ricoh GR IIIx

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