Friday, September 24

From dredging it to encircling it with a green belt: scientists discuss the best solution for the Mar Menor

After the calm, the political storm has returned. During the visit of the Minister for the Ecological Transition, Teresa Ribera, to the Mar Menor to check its condition after having suffered a second anoxia with five tons of dead fish on the shore, on August 25, there was an apparent conciliation with the President of the Murcian Executive, Fernando López Miras when addressing the environmental crisis. But not even four days had passed when the general secretary of the PP, the Murcian Teodoro García Egea, again accused the third vice president of not having put “any concrete measure on the table” during his appearance before the Council of Ministers, while The State Attorney General’s Office received the regional government’s complaint against Ribera, accusing her of neglecting to control discharges that reach the Mar Menor through the Albujón promenade. A political crisis that is reflected in the disparity of the proposals that they put on the table, both from the political and social spheres, to alleviate the state of the lagoon.

The keys to understanding why the Mar Menor is in danger

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During the press conference offered by López Miras on the fifth consecutive day of the appearance of remains of marine fauna in the Mar Menor, the head of the Murcian Executive already announced his three star measures to solve the environmental crisis that Murcian ecologists have been warning for decades: stop the nitrate discharges from the Albujón watercourse to the lagoon, dredging the gully –the channel that connects the Mar Menor with the Mediterranean– of Marchamalo and emptying the nitrates aquifer. Days later, he went one step further and announced the ban on the use of inorganic nitrogen fertilizers in the so-called ‘zone 1’ of the Mar Menor, which affects land in the municipalities of San Pedro del Pinatar, San Javier, Los Alcázares and La Unión. It also undertook to halve the administrative deadlines for processing disciplinary proceedings, necessary to restore illegal irrigated land.

At the same time, the Popular Legislative Initiative (ILP) to grant rights to the salt lake continues its course. Its promoters have until October to get half a million signatures, and they claim to be close to achieving it, especially after the last fish death crisis that encouraged citizens to support the project. For their part, from Podemos Región de Murcia and Unidas Podemos have been promoting for months that the Mar Menor becomes a regional park, and that it is thus endowed with a series of public protections that serve as a “shield”, in addition to approving a tax to “agribusiness”: “So that those who have polluted, pay,” UP Secretary General Ione Belarra said at a press conference.

Stop the discharges to the Mar Menor by the Albujón rambla

The regional government has indicated time and again that it is necessary to end the discharges that reach the salty lagoon through the Albujón ravine. This week the parliamentary majority that supports the Government of López Miras –PP plus the defectors of Ciudadanos and former Vox– registered a bill in the Regional Assembly to tighten the regulations on dumping.

“What is clear is that the regional government does not consider the relationship between intensive agriculture and the Campo de Cartagena as an option because that is really the problem,” says José Antonio García Charton, professor of Ecology at the University of Murcia. “There are measures, so to speak for pipes, but there would still be a spill that would reach the Mediterranean through collectors, drainage networks or diversions. Again we are trying to solve an environmental problem with ‘hard work’ in the context of climate change with the that we are going to have more and more cold drops, on the one hand, and on the other hand, less and less water “.

García Charton advocates the “transformation of agriculture towards practices more in accordance with the climatic situation and the situation of the Mar Menor: everything else is a flight forward that does not guarantee anything, but quite the opposite”, he points out.

Dredging of the Marchamalo gorge

From the PP and also Vox there has been a lot of insistence on the dredging of the Marchamalo gola after the second anoxia that the Mar Menor has suffered. This is the smallest channel of the three communications that the lagoon has with the Mediterranean –the other two would be Las Encañizadas and on the Estacio channel–. “If it is done as it is being considered, it is to seem that you do something without doing anything. Marchamalo is a very small gorge and the Mar Menor is a very large lagoon with a water renewal rate of about eight months. two meters would have practically no effect, “says García Charton.

The director of the Association of Southeast Naturalists (ANSE) and geographer, Pedro García, agrees with the ecologist’s vision: “Dredging the gola is a story because it is constantly open, the only thing that it has been able to lose is a little capacity. It is nothing more than a mantra: you let go of it and people think that something is happening. Of course, it has an immediate effect on the citizen because he sees the machines work. ” “The problem is much more complex and these solutions are very effective. Some use them as a smokescreen and meanwhile agriculture is not being looked at,” he adds. In fact, Ecologists in Action threatened to denounce the Murcian government for proposing dredging.

The measure only finds support in the Mar Menor monitoring committee itself, dependent on the Ministry of the Environment. Its main defender is Ángel Pérez Ruzafa, a researcher at the University of Murcia and professor of Ecology. Ruzafa refuses to call the opening of the gola a “solution” for the Mar Menor: “It is an emergency action to prevent DANA. It is certainly not a measure to prevent eutrophication, at all.” The Murcian Government has defended that it will be a punctual and reversible dredging.

The technical director of the Nueva Cultura del Agua Foundation, Julia Martínez, points out that if only Marchamalo is dredged “the impact would be very residual.” The scientist argues that if a channel is opened, the exchange of water through the Estacio is proportionally reduced, which is the main communication between the lagoon and the Mediterranean –open communicating systems–. “It would just be an appearance that something is being done. Plus, it may have additional ecological impacts.”

Emptying of the aquifer that flows to the Mar Menor

The scientific community agrees that the aquifer below the Campo del Cartagena and the Mar Menor would have some 300,000 tons of accumulated nitrates. The regional government has repeated on several occasions that it should be emptied. Pérez Ruzafa insists that it is not about emptying aquifers, “but about lowering them by a meter and a half: If you manage to lower the aquifer to the level of the shore, that water will stop entering the sea directly and indirectly through the promenade, and then it would only be necessary to control the surface water with a collection and treatment infrastructure “.

“I would like them to also tell us better: puncturing the aquifer and removing the water seems complicated to me,” says García Charton. The ecologist believes that, in any case, it is a specific measure, like the dredging of the gullet. “There are several aquifers there, how is it pricked? I lack expert opinions that tell me what it means to pump the water from the aquifer, take it to the desalination plant, desalinate the water and where would that water and that brine go? Can they be extracted? the nutrients? And where do you put that water: in the Mediterranean? “asks the ecologist, who considers that there has not been a precise analysis of this action, in addition to the fact that the problem of origin remains unaddressed: the excess of intensive agriculture with three and four harvests a year.

A green belt around the lagoon

During the past Congress of Ministers, the third deputy minister proposed that one of the measures they would implement would be “a 390-hectare green belt,” for which Ribera hinted during her visit to the Mar Menor that she was willing to acquire private farms.

Rosa Gómez, also a professor of Ecology at UMU, has been researching wetlands for years. “The shore of the Mar Menor was surrounded by wetlands and they play a very important role as a green filter, so that all surface and subsurface runoff waters that cross the wetlands are purified naturally,” he says.

“It would be necessary to surround the Mar Menor with the wetlands that it had, the ones that remain, and make other artificial ones in which a natural wetland is recreated,” says Gómez, who is also committed to creating wetlands also in some strategic locations to “purify agricultural drainage zones “and” revegetate the riverbeds. ” “They are infrastructures based on nature and now in Europe this is advocated,” says the ecologist.

In the same vein, Martínez, from the Nueva Cultura del Agua Foundation, states: “Within the belt, any type of intensive or irrigated activity should be excluded, and dedicated entirely to the recovery of wetlands and natural vegetation, and to natural vegetation so that they have that work of a sponge, of a system that can retain and eliminate nutrients “. When there are large streams of water, the nitrogen and phosphors accumulated in the basin – for many months, and even years – suddenly enter the Mar Menor lagoon. “If the natural wetlands are recovered and the entire perimeter band is strengthened with more wetland surface and patches of natural vegetation, these wetlands will act as kidneys capable of retaining those nutrients,” defends Martínez. The technical director also recommends reducing the irrigated area –beyond the 8,500 illegal hectares–, and criticizes the Murcian government’s measure to ban some fertilizers: “It is far from solving the problem.”

“By itself it would not be enough,” says Pérez Ruzafa. The scientist indicates that only with the green belt it is not prevented that an aquifer continues to pour water into the sea, nor that in a DANA the land retains some water “.” Everything that is not having a water management infrastructure are complements “Ruzafa insists. The member of the Mar Menor monitoring committee questions the viability of the green belt:” How does it materialize? Who expropriates? Who finances it? It gives me the impression that this is beginning to not be in the domain of the Ministry of Ecological Transition “.

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