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Catalan Government to take Ebro Hydrologic Plan to Brussels as it endangers the Delta’s survival

The Catalan Executive announced it will take the Spanish Government’s Hydrologic Plan for the Ebro River (Plan Hidrológico del Ebro) to the European Commission, as it will damage the river’s delta, which is a unique environment and one of UNESCO’s Biosphere Reserves. The European Commission replied that it will need “weeks or even months” to analyse the plan, which only guarantees that around 30% of the river’s volume of flow will reach the delta. According to scientific studies, such a volume of water is absolutely insufficient to preserve the Delta, which is a reserve for wildlife as well as a tourist and agricultural centre. The project foresees allocating almost 11,000 cubic hectometres of water per year upstream to irrigate 1.41 million hectares of fields, a third of them newly-created. Brussels is still waiting for Madrid’s documentation but the Commission warned that it will look at the plan “from all the possible angles”.

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04 March 2014 09:45 PM

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ACN

Barcelona (ACN).- The Catalan Executive announced on Tuesday it will take the Spanish Government’s Hydrologic Plan for the Ebro River (Plan Hidrológico del Ebro) to the European Commission, as it will damage the river’s Delta, which is a unique environment and one of UNESCO’s Biosphere Reserves. The European Commission replied that it will need “weeks or even months” to analyse the plan, which only guarantees that around 30% of the river’s volume of flow will reach the Delta. According to scientific studies, such a volume of water is absolutely insufficient to preserve the Delta, which is a reserve for wildlife but also a tourist and agricultural centre. Brussels is still waiting for Madrid’s documentation but the Commission warned that it will look at the plan “from all the possible angles”. People living in the Ebro Delta and nearby counties are very worried about the new plan. They have announced upcoming demonstrations to protest against the project. In 2001, they already protested and managed to stop a similar plan, also designed by a Spanish Government run by the People’s Party (PP).


Currently, only 45% of the river’s flow reaches the Delta and scientists have warned that the transported sediments are not enough to guarantee that the sea will not end up swallowing the land. The Spanish Government’s project worsens the current situation and reduces the flow of water and sediments almost by half. The plan foresees allocating almost 10,700 cubic hectometres (Hm3) of water per year upstream to irrigate 1.41 million hectares of fields, a third of those fields are non-existent yet and will created in the coming years in dry land. Currently 7,880 Hm3 (55% of the river’s flow) are used to water 965,000 hectares of fields, but by 2027, 70% of the whole of the Ebro’s waters would be used for agricultural purposes in particularly dry areas, mostly in Aragón.

The Spanish Government made a small concession

The Spanish Government stated last weekend that “they will explore all the negotiation possibilities” and announced they will increase the volume of flow reaching the Delta by 300 Hm3. This means that instead of guaranteeing a minimal flow of 3,000 Hm3 per year, they would guarantee a flow of 3,300 Hm3. However, environmental associations and experts consider this amount absolutely insufficient. Following scientific advise, the Catalan Government is requesting a minimal flow of 7,000 Hm3, in order to guarantee the Delta’s survival.

The Delta will be swallowed by the sea

The Ecology Chair of the University of Barcelona, Narcís Prat, warned that with such a plan, “in 25 years time a fourth of the Delta will be below sea level”. He also insisted that the entire ecosystem of the area would be changed. In addition, he stated that the plan’s approval is “a mockery” since it does not take into account scientific criteria. For all those reasons, he hopes that the European Commission will stop the project.

A project against EU legislation

The Catalan Minister for Territory and Sustainability, Santi Vila, announced on Tuesday that he will take the Spanish Government’s Hydrologic Plan for the Ebro River to the European Commission to stop it from being implemented. Vila considered that the project goes against European legislation. In addition, he stressed that the plan is “harmful” for the preservation of the Ebro Delta, which is a unique and fragile environment as well as a natural treasure.

A unique environment for wildlife, agriculture and tourism

In fact, these wetlands are one of Europe’s main shelters for wild birds, similar to the French Camargue, the Danube’s Delta or the Doñana National Park in the Guadalquivir’s Delta. In addition, the Ebro Delta hosts an active aquaculture industry (mostly producing muscles and oysters) as well as rice plantations. UNESCO declared it a Biosphere Reserve for the unique equilibrium between wild life and human activities.

The area is also raising increasing interest among tourists. However, the decrease of the river’s water flow arriving to the delta is putting the area at risk, since without a minimum amount of sediments brought by the Ebro each year, the Mediterranean Sea would end up swiping away the land and swallowing the area under its salty waters.

The Spanish Government’s lack of dialogue

Santi Vila criticised the Spanish Government for not having negotiated with the Catalan Executive before approving such a plan. He explained that the process to set an ecological volume of flow to preserve the Ebro Delta needed the agreement of the Catalan Government, which holds environmental supervision powers and also manages the hydrologic cycle in Catalonia. However, “no contact” has been made, according to the Catalan Executive.

The Catalan Minister also criticised that the Spanish Government’s project prioritises “political negotiations” to guarantee and enlarge the water concession to agricultural fields located upstream, to the detriment of the Delta’s preservation. “The problem of the Plan is that it answers watering needs, even artificial ones, [made up] by the Autonomous Communities”. On top of this, Vila insisted that the plan presents manifold technical “inconsistencies”, according to a report issued by the Catalan Agency of Water (ACA).

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  • The Ebro River passing through Tortosa, just before arriving at the Delta (by ACN)

  • The Catalan Government's Spokesperson, Francesc Homs (left) and Santi Vila (right) (by P. Mateos)

  • The Ebro River passing through Tortosa, just before arriving at the Delta (by ACN)
  • The Catalan Government's Spokesperson, Francesc Homs (left) and Santi Vila (right) (by P. Mateos)