Dr. M. M. Borrego-Marín

Water depletion and overexploitation is growing worldwide, casting significant doubt on the sustainable management of irrigation water in certain locations, such as southern Europe (Wada & Bierkens, 2014).

The Water Framework Directive (WFD) (EC, 2000) promoted the use of economic instruments (including taxes, tariffs and general charges) to induce changes in water demand and to reduce water pollution (Art. 9). The WFD defines water services as ‘(a) Abstraction, impoundment, storage, treatment and distribution of surface water or groundwater; and (b) Wastewater collection and treatment facilities which subsequently discharge into surface water’ (Art. 5), and concludes that EU countries should ‘provide adequate incentives for users to use water resources efficiently, and thereby contribute to the environmental objectives of the Directive’. Additionally, national water policies must ensure an ‘adequate contribution of the different water uses, disaggregated into at least industry, households and agriculture, to the recovery of the costs of water services’, thereby adding the concept of ‘including environmental and resource costs’ whose aim is to achieve a more efficient and sustainable use of water resources (EC, 2003).

The use of water pricing in urban supply (i.e., domestic, commercial, industrial) is generalized in most EU member states despite its different levels of cost recovery in water services (EC, 2012, 2015). Irrigation is the most significant water consumer across the whole EU, especially in Mediterranean countries where average water use by irrigation represents 70% of total withdrawals. Despite this importance, the use of cost recovery and water pricing instruments in the irrigation sector is not well defined and information on their implementation remains scarce. This paper strives to fill this knowledge gap by showing how irrigation water taxation has moved from theory into practice in certain European regions and countries.

The implementation report carried out in March 2015 by the European Commission on the Programme of Measures in EU states showed very timid advances in the establishment of an appropriate water pricing policy (according to Art. 9 of the WFD) for agriculture in the implementation of the 2nd RBMPs (EC, 2015). Only some countries, such as France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Romania and the United Kingdom, had introduced specific measures in this regard. Therefore, further and stronger efforts are necessary in EU states to provide adequate incentives for efficient water use in this sector.

This paper aims to offer an overview of the complex taxation of irrigation water services in EU countries, and focuses on the specific cases of Spain, Italy, Portugal, France, the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark, which include different types of taxation instruments. The analysis attempts to clarify the group of taxes and tariffs currently charged to water users, while focusing on irrigation. The specific case studies of the mentioned European countries are analysed in great detail. Besides, a brief comparative analysis of the irrigation water taxation in these countries is carried out. Due to its relevance in designing water taxation systems, the issue of cost-sharing between sectors is also reviewer and a brief discussion and concluding remarks are offered.


You can read the full research paper here: (https://doi.org/10.2166/wp.2019.197)

Analysis of irrigation water tariffs and taxes in Europe

Berbel, J., Borrego-Marín, M. M., Expósito, A., Giannoccaro, G., Montilla-López, N.M., and Roseta-Palma, C.

Water Policy, August 2019; 21 (4): 806–825. doi: https://doi.org/10.2166/wp.2019.197


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