Spain will save 41 almost virgin aquifers and lakes from degradation caused by humans

There are 19 lakes and 22 particularly pristine aquifers. Their characteristics make it "of special importance" to conserve them in their natural state. Springs, springs and lagoons that will be the first subterranean and lacustrine hydrological reserves in Spain.

The Ministry of Ecological Transition plans to declare environmentally protected these 41 bodies of water – along with 26 new stretches of rivers – for the high quality of the waters and to conserve these spaces "not yet altered by human action".

In the list of these hydrological reserves there are well-known names such as the Laguna Grande de Peñalara (Madrid) or the Unamuno Lake of Sanabria (Zamora). Also the 200 km2 underground of the aquifers from which the Añales and Cebollón rivers (Andalusia) or the Calar del Mundo (Castilla-La Mancha) emerge. The new reserves are distributed by almost all the hydrographic basins. "It is a beginning and something is something", analyzes Santiago Martín Barajas, from Ecologistas en Acción. However, he is much more critical of the proposal for rivers: "It falls short."

In Spain, a country with obvious water difficulties, there is a tool to environmentally protect the best preserved bodies of water: these hydrological reserves. A figure introduced in the National Hydrological Plan in 2001 which was not activated until 2015 for river sections and remained unpublished for underground waters and natural lakes.

The idea is that in this way "a special and singular safeguard is granted to the water resource", that is, to water. All in all, Spain has been late when it comes to detecting, recognizing and shielding a defense network. Although it appeared in 2001, specific places did not begin to be declared until seven years ago and only with river segments.

The plan involves adding, in total, 931 km2 of groundwater and just over 14 of lagoons to which are added 500 kilometers of river courses chosen for the quality of their waters. "It is a natural resource essential for life, so it must be protected by avoiding any harmful influence," says its regulations.

Martín Barajas considers that "it is always positive that new reserves are declared, but the proposal, in terms of rivers, is clearly insufficient." And he underlines the deficiencies in the Ebro and Guadalquivir confederations. He also asks "that the planned reserves for the Lozoya and Alberche rivers in the Tajo basin be extended because they have been limited to the minimum of the headwaters of both."

Spain has recurring problems with water. Both with the quantity available to satisfy a very demanding demand and with the care of its quality. The European Commission has warned of the level of exploitation of water resources that in many basins exceeds the "risk threshold of 40%". In addition, Brussels has denounced Spain before the European Court for the poor sewage treatment that return to the ecosystems, and the discharges from the agricultural industry, to the aquifers.

To pass the filters and earn a statement, the candidate masses must have a special relevance, either because of their "uniqueness, representativeness of the different categories or because they are considered as reference sites."

In the case of the lakes, for example, it is sought that -whether due to the depth, the banks or the origin of the waters- they are a very well preserved example of their category. For aquifers, it is seen that their geological characteristics or their connection with terrestrial ecosystems are also paradigmatic.

In any case, places are tracked where "the pressures and impacts produced as a result of human activity have not altered the natural state." By presenting little aggression, they can act as a kind of 'snitch' against the advance of the climate crisis. "They are an unbeatable scenario to evaluate their effects," they explain in Ecological Transition.

It is a "complementary conservation tool", its official description abounds. The protection regime aims to keep that space as unaltered as possible. It must be taken into account that rivers, for example, have been the ecosystems most transformed by human activities based on dams, clearing, dumping and urban occupations. So the law says that "no new concessions will be granted in the hydraulic public domain that put at risk the maintenance of its state of naturalness."

If the alteration of courses is obvious, in the case of groundwater the activities that are degrading them focus on the discharges that have Spain before the EU magistrates as in abusive extraction that has depleted natural deposits like those that feed the Tablas de Daimiel or Doñana: groundwater connects and feeds the surface.

The declaration of reservation also allows reviewing the concessions for uses and activities that were already in force. In addition, once official, the urban planning regulations of the municipalities must take into account the reservations when drawing up their plans.

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