Gestão sustentável das águas subterrâneas costeiras e redução da poluição através de uma governação inovadora num contexto de alterações climáticas



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People in charge of the innovative practice :

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SUstain-COAST is a research project co-funded under the PRIMA 2018 section II program, for a period of 3 years from June 2019. The consortium is led by the Technical University of Crete (TUC) and consists of a multidisciplinary team of seven partners from six countries. The project intends to develop a calibrated multi-criteria decision support system (DSS) and a web-based geographic information system platform accessible to water stakeholders and policy makers. The DSS and the platform, combined with a specific animation activity, will allow: (i) the engagement of social actors in a learning process around water issues at the watershed scale, based on the visualization of interactive thematic maps, (ii) the use of advanced technologies and tools, such as optical sensors and remote sensing capabilities for participatory water monitoring, and (iii) the use of calibrated numerical models for the spatio-temporal simulation of water quantity and quality evolution. Sustain-COAST thus explores new governance approaches to effectively support the conservation of coastal aquifers against anthropogenic and climatic pressures, through the promotion of innovative water management concepts based on the 4R principles: Reduce; Recycle; Reuse and Recover.
Although various measures have been taken by the administrations and agencies of the Mediterranean countries to promote a more integrated and sustainable management of coastal water resources, various management weaknesses persist: pollution from industrial and agricultural activities and poor wastewater treatment (Tunisia), water misuse from the agricultural/tourism sector and marine intrusions (Greece), excessive consumption by the agricultural sector (Turkey), and conflict between farmers and fishermen over eutrophication problems in wetlands used for both aquaculture and agricultural activities (Italy). These four countries seek to contribute to the improvement of the governance of Mediterranean coastal water resources through a collaborative research project that is designed to explore, design and test innovative governance approaches for coastal groundwater resources in the Mediterranean by promoting stakeholder dialogue and – decentralization and civil society engagement in decision-making processes.

The overall objectives of SUSTAIN-COAST are:

  • Design and test innovative governance approaches for Mediterranean coastal water resources;
  • Improve water resources management;
  • Mitigating pollution of water resources;
  • Application of good governance principles: equity, legitimacy, efficiency, transparency and accountability;
  • Decentralization, engagement of civil society in decision-making processes, engagement of the private sector in strong public-private partnerships.

The project is organized around 4 founding pillars:

  • Strengthening desirable coastal water resources management options;
  • Prevention of coastal groundwater pollution;
  • Active engagement of relevant stakeholders in a social learning process;
  • Strengthening monitoring, communication and dissemination activities.

The project is innovative in that it actively engages stakeholders throughout the basin in a social learning process and spatio-temporally predicts groundwater flow and pollutant transfer based on prevention and mitigation options suggested by stakeholders and climate change scenarios.

Responsible entity

The Technical University of Crete (UTC) is the coordinator of the SUSTAIN-COAST project. UTC has over 6000 students and 115 faculty members. UTC consists of five engineering schools and conducts research in advanced technological fields in collaboration with other research institutes and industries. The SUSTAIN-COAST project is carried out at the School of Environmental Engineering (EnvEng). Research at EnvEng aims to develop innovative solutions to the most daunting environmental challenges. Whether it is waste management, future energy needs, water resources or climate change, EnvEng’s research efforts are strengthened by creative collaborations with leading research institutes and universities around the world. Through various national and international projects, EnvEng has developed significant expertise in coastal groundwater resource management in relation to numerical modeling activities and GIS tools. These topics are directly related to the Sustain-COAST challenges.

Institutional setting

The need to implement innovative governance of coastal aquifers, taking into account technological development as well as socio-economic factors, has become a global necessity. In line with the challenges and scope of theme 1.1.2 of the PRIMA call “Sustainable and Integrated Water Management”, Sustain-COAST has been designed to explore innovative approaches to coastal aquifer governance among multiple water users and beneficiaries, under the uncertainties posed by changing climatic conditions, in four Mediterranean countries.
The technical partners of the project are the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research (Germany), the Euro-Mediterranean Information System on Water Expertise (SEMIDE, France), the University of Strasbourg (UNISTRA, France), the University of Sassari (Italy), the Center for Research and Technology in Water (CERTE, Tunisia), the University of Mersin (Turkey).
A scientific council has also been appointed with institutes (GWP, CIHEAM – Bari institute, UFM – Union for the Mediterranean) and companies (Ambienta).

Geographical setting

The project takes place in 4 study sites, called “Living labs”: Arborea (Italy), Wadi El Bey (Tunisia), Malia (Greece), and Erdemli (Turkey).

Arborea (Italy): The case study is located in a 60 km2 area under the domain of the Consorzio di Bonificadell’Oristanese, a local consortium controlled by the regional administration that is responsible for the distribution of irrigation water supplied by the Eleonora d’Arborea dam, one of the largest in Europe. Agricultural systems range from dairy cattle breeding in a nitrate vulnerable area (the municipality of Arborea) to rice cultivation (over 3,000 ha), horticulture and other rain-fed agricultural activities. Water is key to the economic development of the district: the cooperative system of Arborea is the most important dairy industry on the island, with more than 300 million euros of annual gross income, struggling between the market crisis and the environmental restrictions of effluent management in an area that was drained in the 1930s with a very shallow water table and sandy soil. Rice cultivation is one of the largest consumers of water per unit area in the district, while providing not only food but especially rice seed. Horticulture is one of the main operations on the island, producing artichokes, melons and many other valuable crops.
Wadi El Bey (Tunisia): The Wadi El Bey pilot site is located about 40 km south of the Tunisian capital. It covers an area of 430 km². It is bordered to the north by the Gulf of Tunis and the hills of Tekelsa, to the west by the mountains of Bouchoucha and Halloufa, to the south by the hills of Hammamet, and to the east by the mountain of Abderrahman and the highlands of the eastern coast. The main wadi of this pilot site flows into the Sebkha El Maleh, which is close to the Mediterranean Sea. This pilot site contains various industries operating mainly in the field of textiles and food processing. In addition, it contains extensively cultivated areas (citrus, oranges, grapes and vegetables). The site is characterized by a high level of pollution due to the important development of industrial, agricultural and tourist activities. The main sources of pollution are industrial and agricultural activities and inadequate wastewater treatment.

Malia (Greece): The Malia watershed is located in northern Crete, Greece, 40 km east of the city of Heraklion. Surface and groundwater are used to support the extensive agricultural activity of the area, while in the last 20 years, increased tourism development has resulted in a significant demand for water consumption. The region’s water resources are very important to its inhabitants as they cover their drinking water needs and their well-being depends on agricultural and tourism activities that consume large amounts of water. As a result, groundwater levels have been significantly reduced over the past 30 years, resulting in significant saltwater intrusion into the groundwater. Water quality in the area has been significantly degraded due to the massive saltwater intrusion into the aquifer. As a result, high concentrations of Cl- are found in the groundwater, which, in conjunction with excessive pumping, leads to lower aquifer levels and groundwater degradation. In addition, increased concentrations of nitrates are also found in groundwater due to extensive agricultural activity in the area.

Erdemli (Turkey): The Erdemli coastal aquifer is located about 30 km west of downtown Mersin (in SE Turkey), covering an area of 45 km2. The population of Erdemli district is 140,331 people, the majority of whom are mainly engaged in agricultural activities. A significant part of the area is made up of agricultural areas such as greenhouses and citrus orchards. The southern part of the ACE area, which is very close to the Mediterranean coast, is mainly composed of alluvial deposits, while the northern highlands are composed of carbonate rocks with many karst features (e.g. sinkholes, caves, etc.). In the region, mainly in the Mediterranean coastal areas, groundwater from the coastal aquifer is used extensively to meet domestic and agricultural irrigation water demands. The main problems in the region are the intensive use of groundwater, the decrease in the quantity and quality of surface and groundwater due to increasing droughts, agricultural activities, and the lack of water quality.

Detailed explanation

The management practice is developed around a multi-criteria DAS (GIS-based multi-criteria decision analysis method) and multi-actor platforms (Living Labs). The DAS is based on multi-criteria factors including local and specific social, economic, technical and environmental constraints. This system is designed and implemented for each case study. The decision rules for the implementation of the DAS depend on quantitative data derived from weighted GIS (Geographic Information System) layers and thematic maps are created for each main criterion. At a later stage, sensitivity and suitability maps are produced using a weighted overlay method in GIS based on the weighted thematic maps. Finally, several “what-if” scenarios are developed and evaluated, considering a wide variety of water management issues, such as satisfaction assessment, water pricing, water saving suggestions to users, new infrastructure proposal and their impact. The ranking of these different alternatives in order of preference can also take place through the use of DAS by considering the principles of game theory in terms of a zero-sum game.

The data sources are scanned and transferred into a GIS tool (ArcGIS), and all data layers are georeferenced with the same projection system. Then all necessary data in the layers will be digitized using the Arc Editor tool. After digitizing the data, vector maps are created for each factor and the attributes are entered manually (lithology, land use and soil type, transmissibility, piezometric water levels and water quality parameters) or calculated automatically (distance to lineaments, springs and wells, water bodies) using the ArcGIS tools. All created vector layers are converted to raster format and each sub-criterion is weighted by the value of the assessment. The last action is the creation of the suitability map using the Weighted Linear Combination (WLC) aggregation method with the special data available for each case study area that may cause stress on groundwater pollution.

nappes du fossé Rhénan

Finally, a multi-stakeholder platform involving relevant actors, based on participatory and interactive sessions – Living Labs – is designed and implemented by the partners in each case study. The main stakeholders interested in the implementation of an innovative governance of the studied sites, taking into account their priorities but also their constraints, are taken into consideration. Consolidating and maintaining the active involvement of the main socio-economic actors concerned (ensuring a public-private-popular partnership) through their early involvement in the overall management and effective governance of the coastal aquifers of the selected case study sites are two of the objectives of Sustain-COAST. To this end, five living labs in each case study are co-designed and organized. The ultimate goal of this task is to promote social learning spaces, where integrated scientific and local knowledge is developed to support decision makers in designing adaptive pathways for local communities regarding sustainable water resource systems.

Historical overview

Two main triggers initiated the setting up of this project. First, climate change and its impacts on the groundwater resources of the selected study sites, and second, the absence and lack of data sharing among stakeholders.
No major obstacles were encountered during the project set-up phase. During the implementation phase, the obstacles encountered concerned the commitment of public decision-makers, access to data, and the management of the participatory approach in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The main key factors of implementation were the Grenelle II law (n°2010-788) of July 12, 2010 and the need to delimit the protection areas of the catchments for drinking water and to set up action programs on these catchment areas.
The main obstacles were the lack of lobbying, as the estimation of the groundwater residence time was not imposed, and the financial leverage as this innovative method requires an expertise with a certain cost that can slow down its use.

Evidence of benefits from implementation

There are no benefits to the use of this management practice yet since the project is still in progress. However, interesting first results on the characterization of the demonstration sites and on the cost-effectiveness and cost-benefit analysis of some prevention scenarios have been published on the project’s institutional website.

Replication potential in SUDOE region

The project has a strong potential for replication (Mediterranean or wider) as it touches different stakeholders and different groundwater issues that are common to other regions. The financial cost of such a project is 1.12 M€, with about 15 people (6 countries, 7 partners) dedicated to the implementation of the solution. Each partner was able to benefit from subsidies via the PRIMA program.

Future outlook

The short-term perspective of the project is to extend it by one year because it has been strongly impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. In the longer term, the objective is to valorize the Sustain-COAST results by creating new projects (2 PRIMA projects have been created INTheMED and AgreeMED), and to transfer tools and practices to the groundwater resources managers of the demonstration sites.

Key points of the innovative method

> Multi-partner project
> New governance approach to protect coastal aquifers
> Living laboratories for a participatory approach
> Civil society engagement in the decision-making process
> Social learning process


The innovative practice was suggested by Yvan KEDAJ (Aqua-Valley) and Maroua OUESLATI (SEMIDE) participated in the interviews.


Sustain-Coast (2020). Deliverable 2.1 : Report on the real sites characterization : – consulté en ligne le 14 janvier 2022.

Ben-Salem, N., Wachholz, A., Rode, M., Borchardt, D., Jomaa, S. (2020). Evaluation of three global gradient-based groundwater models in the Mediterranean Region. EGU General Assembly 2020,

Karatzas, G., Vozinaki, A-E., Anyfanti, I., Stylianoydaki, C., Varouchakis, E., Goumas, C., Roggero, P-P., Mellah, T., Akrout, H., Jomaa, S. (2021). Living labs towards sustainable groundwater management: case study in Malia, Crete, Greece. EGU General Assembly 2021,


Site web du projet : – consulté en ligne le 14 janvier 2022
Publications liées au projet Sustain-COAST : – consulté en ligne le 14 janvier 2022
PRIMA : – consulté en ligne le 14 janvier 2022
Université Technologique de Crête : – consulté en ligne le 14 janvier 2022
Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research : – consulté en ligne le 14 janvier 2022
SEMIDE : – consulté en ligne le 14 janvier 2022
Université de Strasbourg : – consulté en ligne le 14 janvier 2022
Université de Sassari : – consulté en ligne le 14 janvier 2022
CERTE : – consulté en ligne le 14 janvier 2022
Université de Mersin : – consulté en ligne le 14 janvier 2022


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