On the way to Puerto Naos an image repeats itself: dozens of hectares of banana trees crushed by ash. On September 19, the residents of this tourist area of La Palma were evacuated by the eruption of the volcano, given the risk that the lava would bury the roads and be cut off from communication. Thirteen days later, the main stream broke an irrigation network, and the southwest of the island ran out of water to maintain its production. Thus, farmers were forced to temporarily abandon their land. For a few days, the land of Puerto Naos has been home to two desalination plants. These facilities intend, on a temporary basis, to generate enough water so that the more than 600 affected field workers can maintain their crops during the emergency.
The insular councilor of waters of the Cabildo de La Palma, Carlos Cabrera, assures that the intention is “to restore hope to the banana sector”. So far 6,000 cubic meters of water have been generated. This limit will force administrations to determine how much water each farmer can have for each bushel, a unit of measurement used in agriculture to measure the surface of the land.
This calculation will be transferred to the farmers next Friday, and the neighbors will be able to go to irrigate in shifts and at certain times set by the authorities. “We are going to do an exhaustive control,” said Cabrera. The Minister of Ecological Transition of the Government of the Canary Islands, José Antonio Valbuena, has insisted that the water “is not to produce, but to maintain.” In other cases, some workers have been able to continue watering by having their own tanks or tanks.
Valbuena has also stressed that this solution is provisional. However, the insular water councilor has assured this wording that he will try to keep the desalination plants on the island, since for years he has proposed to implement them despite the objections of some of his colleagues. “We have to think about accompanying our traditional system of galleries and wells in another way with production with desalination plants. We are in a context of climate change, where aquifers are decreasing and we have to look for alternatives, such as sea water ”.
“The worst solution”
The renewable energy technologist José Luis Peraza argues that the competent bodies have opted for “the worst solution.” “They have been discussing setting up desalination plants on La Palma for four or five years and now they have found the opportunity or the excuse to do so. La Palma is the island where there is more water and where it rains the most. They have it, they know where it is, but they don’t want to take it out ”. For Peraza, desalination plants are “an aberration and nonsense” in the western islands “where there is plenty of groundwater.” In addition, Peraza points out that the eruption has brought to light historical problems of the water pipes in La Palma. “They are old, they are open and they have not been updated,” he details.
Asked by this newspaper, the insular water councilor assures that the desalination plants have been chosen because all the pipes have been broken. “It is not that we have water and we can say we are going to bring it, but that there is no human formula to bring it. We can only generate water here ”, he points out.
The engineer José Luis Peraza maintains that desalination plants are “one of the worst solutions” because they have a “very high” cost not only for their installation, but also for their maintenance. In addition, they “are highly polluting” by expelling toxic elements such as brine into the sea. The insular water councilor acknowledges that desalination plants can have a negative impact on the ocean, but ensures that those installed in Puerto Naos have specialized tanks that give special treatment to discharges.
For farmers in the highest areas of the affected area, a connection is being made to the network so that the water from the desalination plants reaches the LP2 canal, damaged by the eruption. In this way, the Cuatro Caminos area can also be supplied. Likewise, it is planned to expand the number of desalination plants so that they can replace the tanker that is now working to supply water to the plantations. “In winter the sea turns bad and the ship’s operations will be hampered,” said the Minister of Ecological Transition.
Another of the planned infrastructures is the completion of the insular ring, which allows to connect Fuencaliente with the El Remo area. “It is an underwater performance of approximately 3 kilometers. A hydraulic ring that serves as a guarantee in case situations like this or minor ones that cut off the main networks, ”explained the insular water councilor.