Tuesday, July 5

European Justice condemns Spain for not protecting Doñana from the plundering of water

The European Justice reproaches Spain for not having protected Doñana from the plundering of water it suffers. The magistrates consider that it should have taken into account illegal water withdrawals and those destined for urban supply in the estimation of groundwater pumping in the Doñana region, says the EU Court of Justice in a ruling known this Thursday. In addition, it establishes that the appropriate measures have not been adopted to avoid the alterations of the types of protected habitats located in that Natural Park caused by the extraction of underground water.

The agro-pirates of the water impose a regime of fear to maintain the plundering of the Doñana aquifer

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In its judgment delivered this Thursday, the Court of Justice partially upholds the Commission’s appeal, and declares that Spain has failed to comply with its obligations under the framework directive on water in two respects: first, Spain had no take into account illegal water withdrawals and water withdrawals for urban supply in the estimation of groundwater withdrawals in the Doñana region within the framework of the additional characterization of the Guadalquivir Hydrological Plan 2015-2021.

Second, Spain did not foresee, within the program of measures established in said Hydrological Plan, any measure to avoid the alteration of the types of protected habitats located in the protected area of ​​Doñana caused by the extraction of underground water to supply the tourist center. from Matalascañas (Huelva).

On the other hand, the Court of Justice considers that the Commission has not demonstrated that Spain has failed to comply with its obligation to prevent the deterioration of the state of the underground water bodies of the Protected Natural Area of ​​Doñana within the meaning of the Water Framework Directive. Specifically, says the Luxembourg-based Court, the European Commission “has not proven that the masses of groundwater in the Protected Natural Area of ​​Doñana that were already in poor condition have deteriorated even more, assuming an additional increase in the existing deficit. and, therefore, a greater overexploitation in relation to the previous situation “.

On the other hand, the Court of Justice also declares a breach of the obligations derived from the Habitats Directive, due to the fact that Spain has not adopted the appropriate measures to avoid appreciable alterations of the types of protected habitats located in the protected areas since on July 19, 2006 – Doñana, Doñana North and West, and Dehesa del Estero and Montes de Moguer – caused by the extraction of underground water from the Protected Natural Area of ​​Doñana as of that date.

The sentence does not carry an economic penalty, but rather orders Spain to comply with its obligations, in accordance with European laws, “as soon as possible”, sources from the Court clarify. In the event that the necessary measures are not adopted, the European Commission – which was the institution that brought Spain before the magistrates – could request the Curia to impose a fine on the Spanish state.

The sentence has come after more than ten years since WWF filed a complaint in the European Union. The European Commission opened a sanction proceedings against Spain in 2014. Despite the development of some palliative measures such as the Irrigation Management Plan of the Corona Forestal de Doñana (which covers up to 9,300 hectares) or the purchase of the Los Mimbrales farm to cancel the annual extraction of 6.8 hm3 of water to which that land is entitled, Brussels gave a second notice in April 2016. By January 2019, the deadlines were exhausted and the Community Executive took the case before the Court of Justice European, based in Luxembourg.

Excessively extracting the water from the aquifers for years has made three of the five underground masses in the area of ​​Doñana classified as “in poor condition”. In July 2020, the government declared the La Rocina, Marismas and Almonte deposits that surround the national park overexploited. In the first, 86% of the available water resource has been used, in the second, 106% and the third, 137%, since the pumps that are made in the areas adjacent to this third aquifer end sucking the water from the Almonte mass that drains to the furthest extraction wells. Above 80% it is considered that the “bad quantitative state” is reached. That is, little water.

The extractions are made, mainly, to feed the strawberry and red fruit irrigation industry in the province of Huelva. The draft of the new Guadalquivir Hydrological Plan which has just been published by the Ministry of Ecological Transition admits that, in Doñana, “coexist, with increasing difficulties, a natural space that is a reference for international conservationism and modern agriculture with high added value.” It is also recognized that at least part of this industry has developed outside the norms “outside planning, both hydrological and spatial planning” and that, nevertheless, “it is the main economic engine of a group of municipalities that add up to more than 80,000 inhabitants ”.

The Hydrographic Confederation underlines the governance crisis that exists in the area that prevents inspectors from “exercising their surveillance and childcare functions” as with the harassment of an agent in September 2018 who needed hospital admission. Something similar had already happened in 2014, which denotes an atmosphere of fear imposed by those who plunder the aquifers in Doñana.

In addition to water intended for irrigation, the more localized withdrawals for urban supply in the Matalascañas area have also caused deterioration “that should not be ignored.” Five wells pump liquid to meet the annual demand equivalent to 25,000 people, although concentrated in the summer months. These extractions are affecting the western end of the Lagoon Complex of peridunar lagoons of the National Park, “a true oasis of fresh water and associated ecosystems on the dune-marsh boundary, a short distance from the coast.” This impact is illustrated by the Charco del Toro, which is now flooded 93% less than the average between 2000 and 2015. Other lagoons that are flooded half or less than during that period are Taraje, Santa Olalla II, El Sapo or Hermanillos that put proper name to environmental damage.