Over recent decades, groundwater-fed irrigation has sustained the social and economic development of La Mancha, Spain. Without much initial regulation and control, groundwater resources and aquifer levels decreased dramatically, threatening agriculture and also highly valuable groundwater-dependant wetland ecosystems. This paper presents as a historical analysis of the different policy tools used to manage and regulate groundwater abstraction in the Western Mancha Aquifer after Spain approved its 1985 Water Law. It analyses the panoply of control and management instruments laid out by the state to counter the resource depletion trend, demonstrating the necessity by regulatory bodies to complement soft incentives (carrots) with the threat of sanctions and groundwater access limitations (sticks). As this case study shows however, each policy modality has its legal and practical loopholes which can be negotiated and exploited by groundwater users to their own advantage. Improvements in groundwater levels starting in 2010 seem to be linked to aquifer recharge following an unprecedented wet cycle rather than the effectiveness of the policy tools
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