A project to restore a 1,000-year-old network of water channels is helping farmers in the Sierra Nevada adapt to the effects of the climate crisisA project to restore a 1,000-year-old network of water channels is helping farmers in the Sierra Nevada adapt to the effects of the climate crisis

High in la Alpujarra, on the slopes of the majestic Sierra Nevada in Andalucía, the silence is broken only by the sound of a stream trickling through the snow. Except it is not a stream but an acequia, part of a network of thousands of kilometres of irrigation channels created by Muslim peasant farmers more than a thousand years ago, The Guardian reports.

The channel begins at an altitude of 1,800 metres (5,900ft) and, fed by the melting snow, for centuries supplied water to the village of Cáñar and beyond until it fell into disuse in the 1980s through the gradual depopulation of the area.

Now, it is flowing again thanks to a project devised by the laboratory of biocultural archaeology at the University of Granada and backed by local and European funding. With the help of volunteers, the MemoLab project is restoring the region’s extraordinary hydrological network at a time when the climate crisis is exposing Spain to prolonged periods of drought and intensive farming is putting extreme pressure on water supplies.

When Arabs and Berbers colonised Spain early in the eighth century, they brought techniques in water conservation acquired over centuries in the Middle East. “The Islamic agricultural revolution was the first green revolution. They brought together techniques and knowledge about water, soil, plants and also how snow behaves,” says José María Martín Civantos, an archaeology professor at the university and the driving force behind the project. “They transformed the way water is used in the Mediterranean.”

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