El Brujuelo

Reverse osmosis desalination plant, Stream cofferdam or weir, Irrigation community reservoir.


El Brujuelo

Case Study Contents

About Farm

Farm Name

Farm: El Brujuelo
Farmer: María del Mar Torres.

Year of foundation



Jaén, Andalucia

Farm area/size of the organisation:

70 ha

Number of workers:

2 permanent and 10 seasonal workers.

Farm main activity:


Climate and soil characteristics

The soil of this farm corresponds to expansive clays of the Jaén countryside. The climate is continental, with warm summers and mild winters, and annual rainfall is decreasing. It belongs to a basin with a shortage of water and the groundwater has a high salinity content.

Measure Information

Description of the measure

This farm has combined three sources of water to ensure availability. In 1990, they started using high salinity mine water thanks to a reverse osmosis desalination plant.

In 2000 they built a dam on a stream running through their farm, with a sediment pond and a storage pond (45 million litres).

In 2008 they joined a community of irrigators that pumps water from the Guadalquivir to a reservoir since they are also beneficiaries of that water.

The drippers are inserted in a circular pipe around the tree, with several integrated drippers, a very suitable system for their soil for better use by the plant.

Objective of the measure

The aim was to have available water enough to convert the management system from rainfed to irrigated, guaranteeing sufficient water supply in the future to irrigate the entire farm.

Thus, the irrigation system has tried to prioritise efficiency through drip irrigation, with integrated drippers.

Justification of the choice

In the beginning, they had 30 ha of rainfed olive groves and a mining well with salt water at their disposal. They therefore installed a reverse osmosis desalination plant.

As they grew to 70 ha, their water needs increased, and they looked for less energy-demanding systems; they built a dam on the farm and later joined the irrigation community.

Where did You get information of the measure from?

María del Mar’s father is a builder. The possibility of installing the desalination plant and later the evaluation of the reservoir project arose through his contacts. Over the years, they set up the irrigation community together with other farmers and built the installations to collect water from the Guadalquivir river.

Description of the situation before the measure implementation

First, the farm was a rainfed olive grove with a fairly steep terrain, which made it difficult to work the land. There was a saltwater mining well, which the former owners did not use for agricultural purposes; there are salt mines in the area that try to make economic use of this resource.


Stakeholders involved

  • Engineers
  • Technicians
  • Service Providers
  • Irrigation Community

Description of stakeholders’ role

They have provided them with consultancy services with technical studies implementation of the desalination plant, calculations for the construction of the ponds and installation services for the equipment and pumps.

The irrigation community, which has allowed them to jointly undertake the works for the transfer and pumping of water.

Implementation phase

Description of the survey done for the implementation

Maria del Mar’s family has undertaken most of the investments with its own resources. They have another activity, and this provides funds for the improvements required by the farm. However, they have been able to count on the collaboration of technicians and engineers who have provided them with consultancy services with technical studies and the design of the best solutions adapted to their farm.

Materials used

  • Reverse osmosis desalination plant.
  • Electrical installation.
  • Pond with high-density polyethylene waterproof canvas cover.
  • Suction and pumping pumps.
  • Filters.
  • Piping.
  • Irrigation rings.
  • Drippers.

Costs for the implementation

Reverse osmosis: 132,000 €.
Dam or cofferdam: 40,000 €.
Participation in irrigation community: 300,000 €.

Implementation / building

The desalination plant required a piston pump to enable reverse osmosis at pressures of over 60 bar, with very high energy consumption.

The cofferdam required land clearing to enable a capacity of more than 45 million litres, the base of which was waterproofed with polyethylene.

The Irrigation community required 9 km of piping to bring the water from the Guadalquivir and pumps capable of filling the pond from which 2000 ha are irrigated.

Required maintenance operations

Given the limitations of the desalination plant (100,000 litres/day), it was discontinued when the cofferdam was built, which requires periodic cleaning of the settling ponds and the main dam. As part of the irrigation community, the community is responsible for the maintenance of the pumping equipment and the pond. They carry out maintenance of the distribution network of their plots.

Recommended knowledge / skills / training / courses / education desired before starting the measure implementation

There are technical aspects related to large infrastructures that are unlikely to be known in depth by a farmer. They can learn through technical advisory services and engineering projects. The farmer should focus on agronomic aspects related to irrigation management, calculation of crop water requirements, maintenance, nutrition and fertigation, irrigation schemes and some legal and technical aspects.


Switching from rainfed to irrigation has two impacts:
  1. Increase in average production (x3 times), and stabilisation of harvests from year to year.
  2. Revaluation of the farm’s assets, doubling its value as a financial asset. A 70 hectare rainfed farm can be revalued by 1 million € by switching to irrigation, justifying the 0.5 million € worth of investments.
All the measures have their environmental impact studies, which justifies their sustainability.
In addition, it has had an impact on biodiversity due to the presence of new species attracted by the reservoir water.
Some measures have tried to reduce the initial energy consumption derived from the use of the desalination plant.
The change from rainfed to irrigation increases labour requirements, which encourages hiring and job creation.
For its part, the creation of irrigation communities allows joint investments that would be impossible to undertake individually.
In this case, more than 65 farms have experienced an impact on income, which generates positive effects on the region’s economy.
Drought cycles could mean restrictions on irrigation concessions, limiting the possibility of accumulating water from the Guadalquivir.
This farm, by having its own reservoir to harvest rainwater, reduces this risk.
Community’s installations are very expensive and have a very high-cost structure. Any improvement or renewal of equipment will involve a significant outlay.


Innovation elements

The use of a desalination plant is not so common as in coastal zones for domestic supply or for irrigation of horticultural crops.

The community constitution to undertake investments and improve the use of the resource is another form of social innovation and financing.

Key element for success

The first success factor is to make decisions and undertake improvements to overcome the limitations of the farm.

To have financial resources available to undertake the measures described above, adapting the improvements to their financial capacity.


Physical constraints

Climatic conditions are limiting, with low rainfall and extremely hot summers.

In addition to the scarcity of water, the available groundwater contains high levels of salinity, rich in chlorides.

The orography of the estate makes tillage difficult.

Technological constraints

The financial requirements for the measures have been significant.

Certain technologies such as the desalination plant have become obsolete; there is now more energy-efficient equipment, smaller in size and with a higher daily filtration capacity.

Acceptance constraints

Belonging to an irrigation community makes decision-making difficult and sometimes individual problems cannot be solved.

Proposed solutions to above constraints

With dedication and effort, they have sought solutions to most of the above constraints, trying to ensure the availability of quality water.

Maybe in the future, they can transform energy sources towards sustainable solar-based systems.

Lesson learned

Farmers’ experiences

When facing constraints, solutions can always be found. It will depend on economic or legal factors, but it is possible to find innovative ways to achieve a goal.

The availability and adequacy of resources to these objectives is fundamental, and associative solutions should always be considered as a response.


“We have to look at the economic profitability, because technically we can always find answers”.

Measure sustainability

Environmental sustainability

Efficient use of water through drip irrigation systems. They use bands with integrated drippers (2.4 l/h), with a flow per tree of 16 l/h and an annual allowance per hectare of 1500 m3. Multiple emitters per tree allow a larger wet area and better water availability for the plant.

The system allows the use of much lower water allocations than those required by other crops or less efficient irrigation systems.

Economical sustainability

Increased productivity and asset appreciation guarantee the sustainability of the measures undertaken. In any case, it is necessary to adapt the investments to the size of the farm and to the financing capacity by maintaining sustainable debt positions.

Transfer of the measure

Replicability conditions required

  • Financial resources.
  • Administrative concessions.
  • Associative forms.
  • Availability of technologies.

Additional Required Conditions for spreading the measure

  • Basins that are not so water deficient.
  • Possibility of using desalination plants in areas with brackish water availability.
  • Crops with efficient water use.
  • Administrative willingness to approve irrigation concessions.
  • Cooperative spirit.
  • Regulatory framework that enables these initiatives.
  • Financial resources or forms of financing that facilitate the implementation of measures.

Conclusion remarks

This family farm excels in undertaking initiatives to maintain irrigated farming despite water constraints. Its proactive attitude and search for innovative solutions should be highlighted. The investments have had a patrimonial and productive impact, which justifies its economic sustainability. Furthermore, the irrigation system implemented is efficient in the use of water, which also justifies its environmental sustainability.

Future plans

In the past, the farm has tried to generate value through growth in surface area and improved management from an agronomic point of view. In more recent years, and looking to the future, it is trying to generate added value through multifunctional activities such as processing and direct sales.

Open problems

The availability of several water sources can be complex from an irrigation planning and operational management point of view.

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