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MEPs visit the Ebro Delta to check whether Spain’s National Water Plan infringes European regulations

Six MEPs from the Committee on Petitions visited the Ebro Delta, in Catalonia’s southern region of Tarragona, to meet the several petitioners who have claimed that Spain’s new National Water Plan (NWP) may infringe the EU Water Framework Directive. Environmentalists say one of Europe's most important wetland areas is under threat as Spain’s new Plan aims to reduce the river’s flow to 3,000 cubic hectometres per year and add 465,000 new hectares of irrigated lands to an already existing one million hectares, which will also contribute to cutting the sediment level dramatically. Besides the risk to the delta’s survival, the Platform for the Defence of the Ebro Delta (PDE) are worried that ultimately these waters could be transferred to other, drier regions of Spain. The visit of the EU delegation comes after 50,000 demonstrators took to the streets of Amposta in Catalonia on Sunday to protest against the plans.

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08 February 2016 07:55 PM

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ACN

Barcelona (CNA).- The six MEPs from the Committee on Petitions visited the area this Monday after receiving several petitions warning of possible infringement of the EU Water Framework Directive by Spain’s new National Water Plan (NWP). After its first attempts in 2001, the current Spanish Government has now approved a new Plan which, according to the Platform for the Defence of the Ebro Delta (PDE), puts the delta’s survival at risk as it would reduce the river’s flow to 3,000 cubic hectometres per year. The new NWP also foresees 465,000 new hectares of irrigated lands, to be added to a currently existing one million hectares. Development, irrigation and dams along the length of the river have already cut the sediment level by 90%. The visit of the EU delegation comes after more than 50,000 people demonstrated this past Sunday in Amposta, the biggest city in the Ebro Delta area, urging Brussels to intervene.


The delegation of the Committee on Petitions was led by European People’s Party MEP Pál Csáky, who together with Polish MEP Julia Pitera, Swedish MEP Bodil Valero, Latvian MEP Tatjana Zdanoka, Italian MEP Eleonora Evi and Greek MEP Kostadinka Kuneva will have to write the report about the Delta situation. The delegation was joined by a Catalan MEP, Eco-Socialist ICV’s Ernest Urtasun, who was representing The Greens-European Free Alliance. Javi López, representing the European Socialist Party, also joined part of the delegation. Liberal CDC MEP Ramon Tremosa claimed that the People’s Party (PP) and Spanish nationalist and populist party UPyD ultimately vetoed his presence.

In an interview with CNA, Swedish MEP Bodil Valero assured that she has been following Ebro’s bypassing processes “for many years” and believes that the EU delegation’s task and the potential “political changes” in Spain, when added to the public pressure, could help “stop or change projects”. “It is not impossible but first we have to go there and see it in situ” she stated.

Besides visiting the Ebro Delta, the EU delegation will also meet the petitioners and the responsible political authorities, including the authorities of the Hydrographic Confederation of the Tajo and Ebro rivers and representatives from the Minister of Agriculture, in order to obtain actual information on matters raised by the petitioners.

The vision of Catalans MEPs

“We believe that the European Commission must stop the National Water Plan and urge the Spanish government to redo it” statedone of the Catalan MEPs involved, Eco-Socialist ICV’s Ernest Urtasun. According to him, the visit of the Committee on Petitions’ representatives will allow them “to see in situ how the European directives are being infringed” since it is perfectly visible when visiting the Ebro Delta”. “It is an important mission to support the vindication of the people from the area, which is not only fair but necessary” he stated.

Catalan Socialist Party MEP Javi López also warned the European Chamber of the “serious danger” that the plan would imply for “the Ebro Delta and its important ecosystem”. López also described it as “a socio-economic attack on the area”. “The plan has been done without taking the citizens’ opinions into account nor those of the Platform for the Defence of the Ebro Delta”. “Catalan MEP will continue to defend the Ebro Delta, wherever it takes us” he assured.

“An increasing asset for Catalonia’s independence”

“The fact alone that a committee from the European Parliament would go to visit a certain area, indicates concerns” explained left-wing pro-independence ERC MEP Josep Maria Terricabras in an interview with CNA. “Everybody in the territory is aware that [stopping the Plan] depends, to a large extent, on the Eurochamber” stated Terricabras and went on to assure that the situation in the Ebro Delta “will only be fixed when Catalonia becomes an independent state” with the capacity for “self-management and self-defence”.

Liberal CDC MEP Ramon Tremosa stated that the Plan “infringes European directives” and the Spanish government “was questioned by the European Commission and taken before the court for not fulfilling the EU Water Framework Directive” already “many years ago”. “We need to have Portugal's kind of autonomy, as the international laws don’t allow one country to take water from another” he stated. “The Spanish government doesn’t do this with the Tajo or Duero rivers, which flow into Portugal”. According to Tremosa, the Ebro basin plan is another reason to call for Catalonia’s independence. “We need a normal state, independent and free from the Spanish government’s arbitrariness”.

 “The threats to biodiversity are huge and citizens’ are aware of that and are urging us to do something” stated Christian Democrat Unió MEP Francesc Gambús.

50,000 demonstrators against Spain’s National Water Plan

 The visit of the EU delegation comes after more than 50,000 people demonstrated this past Sunday in Amposta, the biggest city in the Ebro Delta area, urging Brussels to intervene. The rally’s leitmotiv was “The Ebro without flows is the Delta’s death” and demonstrators shouted “The river is life, no to the transfer” throughout the 2-kilometre march. The Platform for the Defence of the Ebro Delta’s spokesman, Manolo Tomàs, accused Spain’s Minister for Agriculture and Environment, Isabel García Tejerina, and the former Ministry for Agriculture and Environment, Miguel Arias Cañete, of approving a National Water Plan which “only favours the speculators” and noted that the company in charge of most of the water management projects in Spain, Acuamed, is being investigated for alleged corruption. “The whole structure of the Spanish Ministry for Environment is under suspicion” assured Tomàs “the National Water Plan is made behind the back of the European regulations, common sense and the people of the Ebro Delta area”.

The organisers of the rally urged the Catalan government to not give up on its support for the Ebro Delta and its people’s vindication.

In response, Catalan President Carles Puigdemont described the National Water Plan as “a social threat” and assured that the project “wouldn’t be possible in an independent Catalonia”, as the Ebro would be a river which would go across two different European countries.

The long battle for water

The Spanish government has been trying for decades to put in place a plan to regulate the river and put the rights to use its water on a firm legal footing. The main aim of the project was to bring water from the northern Ebro River to solve southern Spain’s water needs, such as in the Valencia region, the Andalusian province of Almeria and the whole of Murcia, which are among the most arid areas of Spain. The plan was set to go ahead and construction work began to allow the diversion of water even against the wishes of the Ebro Delta area’s population.

In January, the current Spanish government agreed on what is called the ‘Ebro River Basin Management Plan’. But the approach has drawn huge criticism from local campaigners who believe they have prioritised the interests of farmers and developers over the environment.

A plan which put the Delta survival at risk

Environmentalists say one of Europe's most important wetland areas is under threat with the new National Water Plan. Campaigners say Spanish government plans to restrict water flow could destroy the fragile landscape.

Running for 930 km, the Ebro is the third-longest river flowing into the Mediterranean. Its journey begins in Cantabria on the north coast of Spain but it flows through nine Autonomous Communities before joining the sea in a Catalan delta that stretches over 32,000 hectares. The delta is a national park and it is recognised internationally as being a critical resource for birds and wildlife. In addition the rich waters help produce huge amounts of foodstuffs including rice, fruit and vegetables. The most important element in the preservation of the delta, which faces huge challenges from human development and the sea, is the flow of water and sediment from the river. The sediments protect the integrity of the wetlands and guard against the ingress of saline water. But development, irrigation and dams along the length of the river have cut the sediment level by 90%.

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  • From left to right, Swedish MEP Bodil Valero, Liberal CDC’s MEP Ramon Tremosa and left wing pro-independence ERC’s MEP, Josep Maria Terricabras (by ACN)

  • From left to right, Swedish MEP Bodil Valero, Liberal CDC’s MEP Ramon Tremosa and left wing pro-independence ERC’s MEP, Josep Maria Terricabras (by ACN)