València holds the 1st International Water Court Congress
Attending the Water Court of the Plain of València is very simple as we know where to find it: same time and place, for more than a thousand years. And despite its longevity, it is always a special event, because it is a tradition in this Spanish city, because it values water as a finite resource and because it continues to attract spectators from all over the world.
When entering 2023 in the corridors of CEMAS there was a feeling of vindication in the air: this would be the year in which we would celebrate the 1st International Water Court Congress, in honour of the custodians of the irrigation ditches that irrigate the peri-urban agricultural territory: l’Horta de València. On two days, 22nd and 23rd March, we received the members of the Court, the administration and representatives of important institutions such as the FAO, to celebrate World Water Day and to highlight the value of an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity (UNESCO, 2009).
More than folklore: a model of justice that governs water
In case you didn’t know, the Water Court is one of the oldest courts of justice in the world. Although its exact date of creation has not been dated, it is assumed that it is of Andalusian origin and even points to the Roman tradition. In any case, it is a court constituted by the trustees or representatives of the eight irrigation ditches that water probably the most precious sign of identity for the Valencians: l’Horta. But it is not just a folkloric instrument; it is a model of justice that farming families have made immune to legislative reforms.
Its operation is as simple as it is effective. Every Thursday of the year, at noon, a weekly meeting is held under the Gothic Apostles’ Gate of the Cathedral of València. The neighbouring bells of the “Micalet de la Seu” (the cathedral tower) strike twelve o’clock and the entire Plaza de la Virgen comes to a standstill to hear the Court’s announcements.
The mechanism has been the same for centuries: the farmer who overwatered his plot, blocked an irrigation ditch intentionally or by accident, or irrigated outside the stipulated schedule would be summoned before the Court to defend his position. Gathered in front of the public, the injured party and the alleged offender recounted the details of the incident until the court delivered its final verdict.
It is not very common to have trials. This demonstrates that the institution is a highly effective body. After all, who wants to resort to the public humiliation of attending an oral trial? Appearing before the Court meant putting the honour of an entire family at stake, so there was a previous instance and a lesser evil: to try to resolve the conflict by good faith, with a handshake and behind closed doors.
The Water Court has always been on the side of family farmers, guarding the sustainable and equitable management of water. At the opening of this first congress, the mayor of València, Joan Ribó, stressed that “the Water Court of the Plain of València has set up the structure of protection of small producers that has provided an exemplary food system for the city of València and the entire metropolitan area”.
Committed to defending a common good
The date on which we decided to celebrate the trajectory of the Water Court coincides with World Water Day. The conference was developed as an opportunity to raise awareness of the
water crisis among citizens, taking into account different perspectives (heritage, cultural, historical and legal). In addition, the importance of traditional instruments as a fundamental tool for bringing the reality of water closer to the social level was vindicated.
This Court is an example of living culture that contributes to making the importance of water visible through the centuries and invites us to reflect on this resource so precious for life. Are you interested in this topic? Don’t miss anything and visit us on our YouTube channel to watch the recording of the congress sessions.