Wednesday, December 6

Groundwater, ignored, abused and abandoned

The Spanish hydraulic administration, over decades, has hardly paid attention to groundwater, considering almost exclusively surface water. This neglect on the part of the administrations has brought with it all kinds of abuses by individuals, as a result of which, part of our aquifers are overexploited and contaminated. To this must be added the large number of existing illegal wells. Indeed, in 2006 the Ministry of the Environment estimated the number of illegal wells at no less than 510,000, of which it was estimated that no less than 3,600 hm3 were extracted annually, the vast majority for irrigation. To get an idea, 3,600 hm3 is approximately what is consumed in a year by 40 million inhabitants, including small industries, services, green areas, and other elements associated with population centers. But despite these alarming figures, from the different hydraulic administrations hardly anything has been done to prevent the opening of new wells, not even new censuses have been carried out. As a result, the number of illegal wells linked to agriculture has been growing exponentially. This can be verified in those areas where the opening of new wells has not been authorized for years due to the overexploitation of the aquifer, seeing how solar panels supported on a shaft and scattered among the crop fields proliferate in them. Each of these installations is linked, in most cases, to the existence of an illegal well of more or less recent creation.

As a result of the traditional contempt shown by hydraulic administrations towards groundwater and everything related to it, we find that currently a significant percentage of aquifers are overexploited, and a good number of them suffer from diffuse contamination that renders them unusable. for supplying populations. There are more and more towns that have to be supplied with drinking water by tanker trucks because tap water is no longer suitable for consumption, since its supply sources have been contaminated due to intensive irrigation or the proliferation of macro-farms. The overexploitation of coastal aquifers in turn entails a serious added problem. Due to the excess extraction of water, marine intrusion occurs in them, consisting of the entry of seawater, which will render these aquifers useless for human use for many years. A large part of the aquifers of the Mediterranean coast currently suffer, to a variable degree, from marine saline intrusion.

In addition, the state of the aquifers continues to worsen. According to the latest reports from the Ministry for the Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge, the percentage of groundwater bodies that are not in good condition has increased by 3 percentage points in the last six years, reaching around 40%.

The contempt shown by the hydraulic administrations towards groundwater is extended to the control of the wells themselves, especially when they are abandoned, being practically non-existent for the latter. As a result of this lack of control by the administrations, there are thousands of abandoned wells scattered throughout the country without any type of signaling and protection, posing a risk to the fauna and to the people themselves. In many cases, the state of abandonment in which they are found favors the growth of vegetation around the wells, which prevents them from being seen and, therefore, they can function as a trap for wild and domestic animals, as well as even for people. It should be noted that this type of risk is not only caused by the wells that were dedicated to extracting water, since there are also numerous abandoned mining operations that, especially the oldest ones, do not have any type of signage or protection either. In fact, there are hundreds of mining operations scattered throughout the country, which have particularly dangerous wells, and which are devoid of any type of signage or protection.

From the environmental point of view, we must also add other impacts generated by abandoned wells, since they have also been responsible for the contamination of aquifers on many occasions. It is common for its opening to communicate the upper substrates with deeper ones, reaching the latter with contamination, in the form of fertilizers and phytosanitary products, derived from the agricultural activity carried out on the surface. But there are other cases in which solid urban waste or even polluting fluids have been secretly dumped directly into the wells themselves, thus saving their transfer to landfill or their delivery to an authorized manager.

In short, the traditional contempt shown by the hydraulic administration towards groundwater has resulted in a significant percentage of our aquifers being overexploited and/or contaminated, some possibly irreversibly. In addition, this level of abandonment also translates into the existence of thousands of abandoned wells without any type of control, scattered throughout our geography, which constitute a risk for animals and people, in addition to favoring the arrival of existing or used polluting products. on the surface, to deeper substrates.

The Ministry for the Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge and the regional bodies responsible for water management should once and seriously address the status and management of groundwater, establishing plans for the detection, closure and sealing of all existing illegal wells, in a short period of years. Likewise, regulations should also be established that require municipalities to detect and adequately seal all existing abandoned wells in their municipal areas, regardless of the ownership of the land on which they are located, and with the support of the regional administrations or state if so required.

Finally, the administrations responsible for water management should establish an effective surveillance system, with a view to early detection of the opening of new illegal wells, also establishing effective protocols, which allow their closure and sealing in a short period of time. .