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 which is responsible for the distribution of the irrigation water supplied by the Eleonora d’Arborea dam, one of the biggest in Europe. Agricultural systems range from dairy cattle farming in a nitrate vulnerable zone (the municipality of Arborea) to rice growing (over 3,000 ha), horticulture and other rainfed farming activities. Water is key to the district’s economic development: the Arborea cooperative system is the most important dairy industry in the island, with over 300M€ of yearly gross income, struggling between market crisis and environmental restrictions to the effluent management in an area that had been drained in the 1930ies with a very shallow groundwater and sandy soils. Rice farming is among the highest water consumer per unit area in the district, while providing not only food but mostly rice seeds. Horticulture include among the top farms in the island producing artichokes, melon and many other high value crops.
Despite the high natural water deficit in the summer, water availability is not perceived as an issue by farmers (Nguyen et al 2016) because of the very high capacity of the dam. However conflict arise among agricultural and fisheries due to water eutrophication of the Ramsar wetlands that are used for aquaculture and dairy farmers activities are threatened by both climate warming and environmental regulations (Dono et al 2016). Hidden and apparent conflicts arise and future is uncertain (Ruiu et al 2017a), thus leaving space for the stakeholder engagement in a social leraning process (Ruiu et al 2017b). The Consorzio di Bonificais constrained by obsolete infrastructures where over 50% of the water sold to them by the Water Regional Agency ENAS is lost from the canals and the energy costs for water pumping, as the altitude of the dam is not exploited by the distribution system.