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Adapting to climate change - Integrated water and coastal management in Puglia, Italy

Adapting to climate change - Integrated water and coastal management in Puglia, Italy (2014)

The case study was formulated within the OrientGate project to provide tools and guidelines for local and regional authorities in the Puglia Region (Italy) to assess vulnerabilities and risks posed by climate change and related extremes (focusing on droughts), and to improve planning for the integrated management of water resources and coastal zones, considering scientifically sound and updated information about expected climate terrestrial and marine hazards, and their consequent impacts on domestic water supply, agriculture and coasts.
The developed approach connects data, models, downscaling procedures, spatial analysis techniques, decision support tools and indicators, into a chain of activities ranging from hazard quantification to vulnerability and risk assessment. Links among these components are strongly based on the use of indicators, aimed at synthetizing complex scientific information into quantities easy understandable and communicable to stakeholder and policy makers.

Case Study Description


The territory of Puglia reflects conditions commonly found across the Mediterranean region, having a geographical position and geomorphological characteristics prone to hydro-climatic hazards associated with increasing temperature and decreasing precipitation. Historical climate trends demonstrate gradually warmer and drier conditions that accelerated during the second half of the 20th Century, causing a gradually larger water deficit. Such threats increase vulnerability of the region when combined with the negative consequences of other climate-related hazards, like floods, fires, groundwater depletion.
In the last decades Puglia suffered from many drought events that greatly affected the sectors connected to water resources. In particular agriculture is highly at risk, with higher irrigation requirements competing with other water uses related to domestic supply, industrial processes and ecological functions. At the same time Puglia is forced to import water from nearby regions and overexploitation of groundwater is a serious concern. Also coastal zones, which are strategic for many fundamental socio-economic sectors in the region (tourism, maritime transport and fisheries), are highly vulnerable to sea level changes, erosion, and salt water intrusion into aquifers.
Climate model projections suggest warmer and drier conditions for Puglia also over the next few decades, so that consequent worsening of water deficit would not be sustainable and would have large negative impacts on the social, economic and environmental sectors. Such impacts could become even more severe if considering that recent trends of increasing duration and frequency of heat waves and of other water related extremes, both in terms of scarcity and excess, are expected to continue in the future.
The most important agro-food production of Puglia (wine, oil, cereals) could suffer by the drier and hotter conditions, by erosion and degradation of soil fertility, or by crop exposure to adapted invasive pests.
The increasing human presence and activity along the Puglia coastal areas makes them vulnerable to the occurrence of atmospheric-marine events of great impact and low frequency (e.g. storm surges). Moreover, the state of the coasts is seriously suffering from changes due to erosion and is also vulnerable to relative sea level rise and consequent sea water intrusion into aquifers.
In this context the Puglia Regional Authority already reserves a particular interest for the safeguard of water resources and coastal zones. Given the vulnerabilities of Puglia and the increasing concern for climate change, especially regarding its extremes and consequences, it becomes even more important to develop approaches and methodologies that are cross-sectorial and could be smoothly integrated into policy making processes. This could efficiently support planners and decision makers in incorporating the formulation and adoption of adaptation strategies, as part of traditional water and coast management and protection plans, better if cross-cutting multiple sectors, and minimizing conflicts between needed adaptation practices and other competing priorities.
The overall integrated approach in the Case Study is articulated into five main modules. Starting from the component represented by climate modeling, providing simulations about future atmosphere and ocean regime for the Puglia Region, the risk assessment is performed considering drought hazards scenarios (both for the agro-meteorological and hydrological component) and the consequent impacts on rainfed/irrigated agriculture, as well as quantifying the potential consequences of rising sea levels on low-lying coastal areas.


No adaptation measure is yet implemented through the Case Study, which was conceived, designed and conducted to develop and provide cross-sectoral approaches and methodologies that can be smoothly integrated into policy-making processes, to advance the traditional water and coast management and protection plans in including climate change impacts in the formulation of adaptation strategies.
The Case Study concentrates on vulnerability and risk assessment, in order to foster a fast execution of actions concerning communication of climate trends and impacts, and their consideration by decision makers. Proper vulnerability and risk assessment was thus intended as a mixture of bottom-up approach (based on dialogue with stakeholders) and top-down approach (based on indicators), with the aim of identifying priority areas for adaptation in terms of sectors, systems and resources exposed to climate change and variability.

Adaptation Options Implemented In This Case

No adaptation measure is yet implemented through the Case Study, but several implications emerge from climate indicators and impact analyses that require consideration of several adaptation practices relevant to policies and strategies’ planning.
Stakeholders relying on water should exploit Case Study results and findings to encourage policy makers involved in water resources management and protection to consider the risk of increasingly frequent, intense and prolonged droughts that could reduce the reliability of water yield from dam infrastructures, and could deplete the water table favoring saline intrusion in coastal aquifers, also facilitated by the accelerating overexploitation. This requires a tailored planning toward improved efficiency of water distribution which prevents water leaks and loss, and a more regulated use of aquifers.
The issue of water availability is strongly interacting with agriculture, so that stakeholders and decision makers in that sector have first of all to face the risk of reduced crop quantity and quality due to insufficient water availability, up to the impossibility of maintaining current crop varieties if with poor resistance to droughts, while more rapid heat accumulation may favor crops that are better adapted to newer climate conditions. In this context, agricultural policies should support adaptation by promoting the study and development of supplemental irrigation schemes that optimize use (e.g. emergency irrigation) and reduce losses in water supply. In addition, to enhance water use efficiency, techniques to improve soil fertility and water holding should be promoted (e.g. minimum mechanical soil disturbance), as well as the research and demonstration about potential new cultivars and their correct management, and the demonstration of more efficient farming practices. This can be done through rural development programmes or other regional/local funding schemes.
Shifting dates of sowing/harvesting could be also a strategy to adapt most vulnerable crops into temporal windows more suited to crop development, as well as investigating the potential and favoring the use of alternative water sources (waste-water), and developing meteorological alert warning services to timely activate irrigation applications.
Hazard and risk maps as produced for the coastal area of Puglia can be considered as a screening tool to make a first-pass assessment of critical vulnerabilities associated to sea level rise in the case study. The products can support decision making and coastal management in a wide range of situations (e.g. shoreline planning, land use and natural resources management) and can be used to mainstream climate adaptation in the definition of plans, policies and programs at the regional scale.
Regional policy makers must take into consideration these crosscutting themes and sectors and should invest in: raising awareness on hazard occurrence and vulnerability of society, economic sectors, ecosystem services and the environment; in the improvement and provision of technical information and data; and in the establishment of monitoring programmes and networks.


Case mainly developed and implemented because of other policy objectives, but with significant consideration of CCA aspects

Additional Details

Stakeholder Participation

In order to enable stakeholders, decision makers and their technical staffs to actively guide in the formulation of Case Study activities, like selecting data and indicators, and to collect their feedbacks in terms of needs (data access, formats etc.) and project results, two workshops were organized at the middle and the end of the project.
The first workshop, held on October 24th 2013 in Bari at the Regional Authority premises, was thought as a consultation with stakeholders selected among technical agencies and research institutions working in environmental, water resources and agricultural issues, plus regional authorities and services (River Basin and Civil Protection), already active and experienced in using data and developing methods for monitoring territorial vulnerability and risk.
The main goal of the first workshop was sharing information on a preliminary selection of indicators in order to collect doubts and/or suggestions for a final set of indicators, considered feasible as measurable, verifiable and repeatable without need of too sophisticated post-processing tools or infrastructures. Moreover indicators need to be representative of the area under study and valuable to synthesize the scientific information on climate change and its impacts and risks to local experts, technicians and policy makers.
Besides presentations about the overall OrientGate project, highlighting similarities and differences of Puglia with other SEE territories, and about approaches, tools and data to be provided from the Pilot Study, a questionnaire was circulated to explore: i) the awareness of topics treated; ii) the degree of access and use of data ad tools; iii) the familiarity with terminology on vulnerability, risk and adaptation; iv) the knowledge of the EU Climate-Adapt platform.
After this first workshop, some exchanges continued among project partners and technical offices, especially to share and have suggestions on data to be used, their limits and contingency plans.
A second two-day event was held in Bari on November 11th – 12th 2014 and comprised a first workshop for policy makers, to present overall results in terms of projected climate scenarios for the next decades, potential new trend in extreme events of the area, and the integrated approach developed and applied to have a wider understanding of the effects of climate change and to supply useful information for adaptation strategies in collaboration with the local stakeholders. A questionnaire was circulated to monitor likely changes in conditions detected one year before, and the main issues were largely confirmed, especially about perception of climate change and more frequent extremes, incompleteness and scarce accuracy of multi-thematic data, and about the missed knowledge of Climate-Adapt or other platforms’ initiatives.
During the second day, a training seminar was conducted especially for experts and technicians of public bodies and territorial agencies, as well as for private companies, first presenting more technical details about methodology and results, and then organizing two sessions to promote practice on drought indicator calculation and on Regional Risk Analysis, core of the decision support system for planning on water resources and coastal areas. Two questionnaires were also circulated to collect feedbacks on what presented, with the aim of collect advises to improve the analysis also in future projects.

Success and Limiting Factors

Vulnerability and risk concepts seem equally known even if some confusion and misunderstanding was discovered during the group discussion, so that clarifications (among project partners and with stakeholders) on that allowed to better classify the information produced and to be communicated.
The data collection and post-processing was time consuming as data on climate, land use, agriculture, hydrology, socio-economy often lack of completeness, accuracy, representativeness and user-friendiness of distribution formats. The exploitation and synthesis of tailored simulation model exercises into analytical models up to indicators/indices neither data nor time consuming allowed to overcome some of these limits.

Costs and Benefits
Legal Aspects

In July 2014, the Italian government concluded the elaboration of a National Adaptation Strategy (NAS), accepted by the State-Region Conference in October 2014, and whose completion was supported by the establishment of a technical, scientific and legal expert panel and early involving stakeholders.
A National Adaptation Plan (NAP) is still missing, while regional to local adaptation strategies and plans are rare. Some adaptation initiatives have already been implemented in the context of the existing policies for environmental protection, natural hazards prevention, sustainable management of natural and water resources and of coastal areas, fight against desertification and health protection. At the sub-national scale, a range of initiatives have been designed and implemented by Regions, Provinces, and Municipalities.
Puglia activated preliminary testing of the Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) approach or plans for land protection and spatial planning. Moreover, in 2012, Puglia Region signed the agreement among European regions, known as “Bologna Charter 2012”, to promote a common framework for strategic actions aimed at the protection and sustainable development of coastal areas.
As far as hydraulic risk is concerned, Puglia region has started the process of implementation of the Flood Directive (2007/60/EC) by providing a first release of regional flood hazard and risk maps in 2013. According to the directive, flood risk assessments should also consider the impacts of climate change on the occurrence of floods. Accordingly, next steps will be the evaluation of climate scenarios and of their influence in the frequency and intensity of floods and finally in the assessment of risks.
To support achievement of goals of National Action Programme to Combat Drought and Desertification, the Regional Governments and River Basin Authorities were delegated with the responsibility to accordingly develop Local Action Programmes (LAPs), aimed at: identifying specific regional areas sensitive and/or at risk of desertification through the application of a methodology supported by an appropriate set of indicators at the regional scale; define specific action plans for the prevention, mitigation and adaptation to drought and desertification; and provide guidance for quantification of the financial needs and the identification of funding sources. Currently, ten Italian Regional Governments adopted their LAP, comprising Puglia in 2008.
A number of Pilot projects to combat desertification that go beyond the LAPs were promoted, extended toward the use of experimental techniques and methods (e.g. use of indicators for environmental monitoring, mapping boundary of areas sensitive/at risk of desertification from different processes) for actions aimed at improving knowledge and directly intervening in the territory. Puglia started its Pilot project in 2008.
Further initiatives aimed at protecting soil and restoring its stability have been and will be included in the 2007-2013 and 2014-2020, respectively, Rural Development Plans, in particular for Puglia: improving soil quality and reducing the organic content loss; renewable energy production plants from biomass and other renewable sources; water resources management and water saving technologies.
The projected increase of drought frequency and water scarcity, especially localized in the Southern Italy, have of particular interest for the local policy agenda. Such issues are driving the development of suitable responses in combination with the other components of EU water regulation. Implemented initiatives include the establishment of ad hoc organizations for crisis management in order to regulate the use of water and take the necessary measures to prevent water crises, like a “Coordination Unit for the management of water resources” shared between Puglia and Basilicata Regions.

Implementation Time
Life Time

Reference Information


Monia Santini (Centro Euro-Mediterraneo sui Cambiamenti Climatici;
Antonio Trabucco (Centro Euro-Mediterraneo sui Cambiamenti Climatici;

South East Europe Transnational Cooperation Programme SEE /C/0001/2.2./X Project: “A structured network for integration of climate knowledge into policy and territorial planning” / OrientGate (2012-2014)


Agriculture, Climate Change, Climate Extremes, Coasts, Domestic Water Supply, Drought, Irrigation, Reservoirs, Sea Level Rise, Water


Agriculture, Coastal areas, Disaster Risk Reduction, Forestry, Water management

Climate impacts

Extreme Temperatures, Water Scarcity, Sea Level Rise, Droughts

Geographic characterization


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