Every weekend, the old course of the Segura River, just one kilometer from its mouth in the municipality of Guardamar (Alicante), is full of visitors. A dirt road located between two roundabouts of the N-332 road gives access to the intersection of two trails of Great Route, a large pine forest, characteristic of the area, and several breakwaters. Tourists and neighbors of the neighboring towns enjoy sports activities, fishing or a simple field day there. Nobody seems to care that just at that point the Guardamar Chain is installed, a barrier that holds thousands of kilos of plastic waste that get bogged down along with rubbish, remains of weeds and corpses of fish and birds.
The water that nourishes this channel comes from the azarbes and the acequias of the agricultural exploitations that cross the region of the Vega Baja, between Orihuela and Guardamar. Eight irrigation channels that are used "as containers", according to Sergio Arroyo, president of the Association of Friends of the Humedales del Sur de Alicante (AHSA). "95% of the floating garbage that reaches the screen of Guardamar is made up of materials for domestic use and there is a small part that comes from phytosanitary products". Containers of all kinds that, sometimes, "do not pour directly into the ditches, but are abandoned in the ditches," explains Arroyo. "Then with a simple blow of the west wind, they end up in the canal." And from there, they go down to the sea or they are dammed next to the barrier guardamarenca, in a protected enclave and included in the catalog of Humid Zones of the Valencian Community.
According to Arroyo, this spill is a "great irresponsibility." "It is a serious environmental problem and a failure of the waste management system," he continues. And the most serious thing is not the packaging itself, but its components. "Many of the plastic additives that are used to give them color or texture, of which there is no information because they are protected by intellectual property, It has been shown that they are endocrine disruptors and that they can cause cancer", Warns the president of the conservationist association. "Degradation is a very difficult solution," he says. But it is not "a curse". "Adequate legislation could mitigate the impact of plastics. If the system of return of containers had been maintained or recovered, the plastic would not be there, "says Arroyo.
AHSA has been denouncing this spill since 2015, when it filed a complaint with the Seprona. Subsequently, in April 2017, they submitted a petition to the European Parliament, which requested reports from the Ministry of the Environment. "But the process did not crystallize." And the solution is not complicated, he says. "It is necessary to install screens that retain the garbage before they reach the protected area, with a simple line of buoys, the arrival of waste is limited to the public hydraulic domain". A barrier in each of the municipalities through which the Segura passes.
"The property of the azarbes belongs to the Confederación Hidrográfica del Segura (CHS), which is also responsible for the public domain, but the municipalities are responsible for the management of the resiguos", specifies Arroyo. And it points directly to three of them, San Fulgencio, Callosa de Segura and Dolores. Arroyo qualifies Guardamar as a "victim". Although its urban area is on the other side of the network of hazards, it has initiatives to alleviate the problem and "it is the only one that has addressed the CHS and has done cleanups in the old channel," he says.
No collection since September
At the beginning, in the Guardamar Chain, there was a mechanical waste collection system. But now "is in disuse," laments the mayor of the municipality of Alicante, José Luis Sáez. "There were some conveyor belts that dragged the material towards containers. But they have not worked for 15 years, practically, since a year after it was inaugurated. " The deterioration is evident. The metal fences that bordered the installation are down, anyone can pass and the door that gives way to the barrier on the old channel is permanently open. You can cross over the screen from shore to shore without problems.
Sáez points out that now, the cleaning of this point corresponds to the CHS. The collection of discharges was periodic, stresses, but stopped last September. And the last rains of autumn contributed to that the garbage layer of the barrier grew up to its current state. Since then, Sáez has held meetings with the CHS to "re-organize the withdrawal of plastics" and for "each municipality to control its own dumping". The mayor guardamarenco anticipates that the process is progressing: "The CHS has already tendered another comprehensive cleaning of the screen, which will occur in two or three weeks at the most".
From the hydrological entity, they confirm that, in effect, "there is a protocol between the CHS, the Valencian Community and the Town Councils". It also ratifies that they will install the grids in the ditches that drain the river, but that "the water courts and the municipalities will carry out the tasks of cleaning, collection and treatment of the garbage". And, finally, they advance that "shortly", the CHS will carry out an "emergency action in different points of the river in the Vega Baja and in Guardamar". From AHSA also seem to rely on this measure, since they believe that "the new direction of the CHS", headed by its president, Mario Urrea, "has committed" to stop this spill at the root.
Meanwhile, fishermen like Omar, who come from Murcia, launch the rod into the new channel, where it is forbidden to fish, in search of mullets, sea bass, gilthead sea bream or, a bit further up, where the water is still sweet, carps. He speaks with EL PAÍS at noon on a Saturday, when there are hardly any left of him and a couple of foreigners who throw the hook in the old channel, without caring about the precarious state of the water and the presence of toxic plastics. "A lot of people come here to fish the weekend," he says. As proof, it points to high voltage cables that cross the Segura from shore to shore and in which more than one line has been entangled. "They want to throw too hard," he smiles.
Around a kilometer below, on the coastline, the situation is more controlled, says Sáez. "The beaches are perfect," he says, "dunes and marine environment are in an enviable situation." According to the mayor of Guardamar, every month, "between 500 and 700 kilos of waste are removed on the beaches, with the help of different associations." The collection must be done manually, not mechanically, since "75% of the beaches of the municipality are natural". Only one of these sands, that of Els Tossals, adjoining the mouth of the river, is affected "by the microplastics, coming from the sea and the new Segura riverbed". There, the cleaning is done "with brushcutters, which crush both the weeds and the branches and the plastic that accumulates." For that reason, the Consistory has asked the CHS "to avoid this procedure".