Sunday, March 26

The Andalusian Parliament ignores Brussels and UNESCO and begins the process to pardon illegal irrigation in Doñana

The Parliament of Andalusia has approved this Wednesday the consideration of the bill proposed by PP, Ciudadanos and Vox to legalize 1,461 hectares of the northern crown of Doñana where, for years, a group of farmers has subtracted illegal water from the subsoil of the Park National. The land is located in the Huelva municipalities of Moguer, Rociana, Almonte and Bonares.

Some of its mayors, municipal spokespersons and affected farmers -along with representatives of the Asaja, COAG, UPA and UGT organizations- have followed the debate from the guest gallery. The initiative has gone ahead with the vote of the three proponent groups, which are part of and support the Government of Juan Manuel Moreno, and with the abstention of the PSOE, which is open to “dialogue and negotiate the initiative.” The position of the socialists has been kept secret until the last moment. There was division in the group and some deputies were not informed of the direction of the vote until the last minute.

The approach of the PSOE of Juan Espadas to the initiative of PP, Cs and Vox -conditioned by the electoral pre-campaign and the fear of losing votes in the Huelva county- distances him from the critical position of the Government of Pedro Sánchez, which this Wednesday has requested by letter to Moreno to “desist” from the proposal to expand irrigation, warning of the risk that Spain runs before the European authorities if it prospers.

The written warnings from the European Commission, UNESCO, the Ministry of Ecological Transition, the Guadalquivir Hydrographic Confederation and a large group of ecologists have been useless, condemning the measure as an “environmental attack”, for depleting an aquifer that it is already “too much exploited”. “There is no more availability of water than there is,” the central government had warned. Only the 17 deputies of the groups to the left of the PSOE – United We Can and those not attached – have voted against.

For decades, this conflict in the county of Huelva has been entrenched and under the surveillance of UNESCO and the Court of Justice of the EU, which reproaches Spain for not doing enough to solve the problem of illegal wells in Doñana. But the problem is not only environmental. The red fruits of Huelva that are exported to European markets boast of sustainability criteria, of respecting the balance between the environment and agriculture, but the most skeptical believe that this initiative “puts the traceability of Andalusian products under suspicion”, risking the seal Andalusia brand quality and millions of euros.

The proponent groups have put a lot of emphasis to explain that the initiative “does not speak of water, but of soil.” “Not a cubic meter of water is taken from Doñana. Irrigated land is legalized, but then it will be the Guadalquivir Hydrographic Confederation that will have to authorize the use of the water,” warned the popular deputy, Manuel Andrés González, to underline that the law “wants to compensate for the damage caused for years to a group of farmers”.

Cs spokesman Julio Díaz has diverted the focus of responsibility towards the central government, to which he has claimed “the promised transfer and the unfolding of the San Silvestre tunnel that guarantees water” for irrigation in the area. The Vox deputy, Rafael Segovia, has accused environmentalists and leftist groups of “lying”, and has branded them “new caciques of the earth”. “I remind you of a lyric that they sing a lot, the anthem of Andalusia, which says: Andalusians stand up, ask for land and freedom. Well, that’s what they’re doing,” he said, pointing to the farmers present, who cheered on the deputy. Segovia closed his shift reproaching President Moreno for “wrinking up” in recent days. “As if this weren’t theirs, as if distributing blame to the groups…”.

The spokesperson for United We Can, Inmaculada Nieto, addressed the farmers present directly. “They are lying to them, they create low expectations. The land we are talking about is a wetland, you cannot talk about land without talking about water, and the problem is that there is no water, because the aquifer near Doñana is already overexploited. And That is not solved by transfers or anything”.

The PSOE-A deputy, Mario Jiménez, has disgraced the Moreno government for not sitting down to negotiate with “all the hydraulic authorities with powers in Doñana”, and for not asking for legal and technical reports on the initiative. “He has deceived the farmers. They are not going to do it, they are going to approve it only for the electoral campaign,” he assured. However, Jiménez has closed his shift by offering “dialogue and agreement” to “do things right”, because perhaps, he has acknowledged, the map of hectares with irrigation permits along with Doñana was not well adjusted, in the so-called Plan de la Fresa, approved by previous PSOE governments. After the vote, the socialist spokesman has joined the proponent groups in a celebration photo with the farmers present, in front of the Plenary Hall of the Chamber.

The proposed law of PP, Cs and Vox has been approved by the urgent procedure, which shortens by half the terms for debate, appearance of social agents and amendments. The most optimistic calendar, according to parliamentary sources, would allow the initiative to be approved within two months, before President Moreno dissolves Parliament in March and calls elections for June, as he considered last December. The closest antecedent is the Andalusian Land Law, the so-called LISTA. The Government Council approved it on July 21 of last year and sent it to Parliament, but in August the activity of the Chamber was suspended. The process began in September and was approved unanimously two months later, on November 24.

But the debate on the amnesty of the illegal irrigation in Doñana that now begins in a parliamentary commission seems much more difficult than that, with a more bitter atmosphere between the different political forces. There is no consensus among farmers – with legal and illegal irrigation – and the position of environmentalists, the central government, UNESCO and Brussels is one of outright rejection, caution or absolute skepticism. It is not a bill of the Andalusian Executive, but a proposal that arises from the groups that support that Executive: PP, Cs and Vox. This formula has allowed the Board to avoid procedures that are mandatory for a bill, such as submitting the rule to the Doñana Participation Council, where all the administrations and agents involved are represented. The Board has also not requested a report from its legal cabinet -something that is neither mandatory nor mandatory-, although the European Commission itself has cast legal doubts on the viability of the project.

The debate on the amnesty of the illegal irrigation next to Doñana has inaugurated the last period of sessions, subjected to the static electricity of the next elections. The Chamber divided into two blocks, the conservative and the progressive, under the threat of millionaire fines from the European Union, which has warned the Government of Spain that it will go to court if this initiative prospers. A debate buried in thick interventions with a marked electoral profile. The tension was so palpable that in the morning not even the vice president of the Board and regional leader of Cs, Juan Marín, knew how to hit the mark when defining the position of his group.

Two identical bills on Doñana have arrived in Parliament, one signed by PP and Vox and the other by PP and Cs. They have been processed and defended together, but have been voted on separately. The two have entered through the urgent procedure, but Marín has defended in the morning that they would not use that procedure, which his own group had registered a month ago. The president of her group, Teresa Pardo, has not been able to correct him either, and finally the vote has shown that the support of PP, Cs and Vox was identical.

Overexploitation of the aquifer

The double proposition of law of PP, Cs and Vox proposes to modify the Special Management Plan for the Doñana Forest Crown approved by the socialist government in 2014 -known as the Strawberry Plan- to curb the overexploitation of the National Park’s aquifer with illegal wells. The norm then determined that “irrigable agricultural land” was everything that had that consideration in 2004, since in the decade that passed between both dates there was forest land (especially old eucalyptus areas) that was converted to agriculture.

In this situation are the 1,461 hectares of irrigated land contemplated in the bill, of which 335 stand out on forest land with maximum environmental protection. The way to give them access to the right to receive water is as simple as erasing a decade with a stroke of the pen and setting the starting point in 2014, when the Board approved the Strawberry Plan with Susana Díaz as president. For this, the Andalusian Forestry Law must also be modified, since PP, Cs and Vox consider that a “restrictive application” of the state regulation was made, which reduced the number of exploitations that could be regularized and, in their opinion, caused the “helplessness” of the affected farmers.

In those hectares located in the North Crown of Doñana -20 kilometers from the protected area- there would be farmers with documentation that proves that the land they own is for cultivation, and therefore the norm would regularize their right to irrigate, and others who lack permission some and that they have accessed the Doñana aquifer “by kicking a fence”. The mayors of the Huelva municipalities where these irrigated lands are located, many of them from the PSOE, estimate that there are about 500 hectares that are in a position to regularize. The environmental organization WWF raises the amnestiable area to 1,903.7 hectares, 30% more than its calculation estimated by the bill.



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