April 16, 2021

The sick wetland of La Mancha | Society

The sick wetland of La Mancha | Society

The Director of the National Park of Las Tablas de Daimiel, Carlos Ruiz de la Hermosa, removes a fence resting on a bird watching booth and enters a lagoon on foot. It is completely empty. Elsewhere in the park, dozens of black coots gather to escape the cold in a beautiful lagoon overflowing with water. It is the face and the cross of the single floodplain of semi-arid climate that survives in Europe, threatened for decades by the agricultural overexploitation of the immense aquifer 23 -5,000 square kilometers of surface- and of the Alto Guadiana area.

The Tables are formed by the overflow of the Guadiana and Cigüela rivers in an area with almost no slope. In a natural state, water always flowed, something that does not happen anymore. The current flooding is 26% -450 hectares of 1,750- with an aquifer that has a deficit of 1,125 cubic hectometres with respect to 1980, and which continues to fall.

This trend threatens to turn into a mirage the second and unexpected opportunity offered to the park by the exceptional rains that occurred between 2010 and 2013. The aquifer recovered, the lagoons were filled and Los Ojos del Guadiana (birth of the river) reappeared in 2012, with very little flow, after 30 years disappeared. But now, with the drought, the aquifer loses since 2015, because more water is extracted than it recharges, warns Miguel Mejías, head of the Area of ​​Applied Hydrogeology of the Geological Mining Institute of Spain (IGME).

The park has experience in the pillaging, decades of uncontrolled irrigation dried Las Tablas between 2007 and 2009 and the subsoil peat burned. Mejías warns of the danger of not taking measures, because "you can not leave the management to the free will of meteorology." The Prosecutor's Office of Castilla-La Mancha points in its 2018 report to "the illegal capture of waters through thousands of clandestine wells," as the "main problem" that diminishes the aquifer 23. In addition, it points to authorized wells "exploited very above the allowed volume ". In the Alto Guadiana there are some 60,000 legal water catchments, according to data from the Guadiana Hydrographic Confederation (CHG). In addition, there are another 1,648 censuses that were not legalized with the special plan of 2008, in which thousands of wells were legitimized.

The data is overwhelming: in natural conditions, between Los Ojos del Guadiana and the Tables, 66 cubic hectometres per year circulated, now, in the best year (2014), they were 11, Mejías points out. In 2019, this flow is expected to decrease -between 0.4 and nothing-, far from the 38 flow of groundwater established by the Guadiana Hydrological Plan.

Alberto Fernández of WWF directs criticism to the policy of the Junta de Castilla-La Mancha and the central government, "for the increase in the irrigated vineyard, which consolidates a structural demand for water that will lower the aquifer." The conservationist remembers that the water that is currently provided to the Tables comes mostly from the surface contributions of the rivers. "How they vary throughout the year, have been insufficient to maintain the stability of the sheet of water," he says.

The president of the Guadiana Hydrographic Confederation, Samuel Moraleda, says that they are "finalizing a program of actions", which includes the promotion of the sale of rights of extraction of water between individuals, in addition to a continuous monitoring of the exploitations. Although, he acknowledges, "it is very complicated to monitor 200,000 hectares of irrigated land with one agent per 1,000 square kilometers." If to this one joins that not all the agricultural exploitations count on caudalímetros – although the stop date for it was December of 2018 – the tasks of inspection are complicated still more. Fernandez of WWF emphasizes that "before promoting the sale, it is a priority to close the illegal wells of the Cuenca Alta del Guadiana, especially those of the aquifer 23".

The claim of the Junta de Castilla-La Mancha is to ensure agricultural activity. The Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Development, Francisco Fernandez Arroyo argues that the solution of the tables is "political" and recalls the plan that was launched in the time of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero that involved the acquisition by the State of 2,100 hectares and 2.2 cubic hectometres. At present no such initiative is contemplated.

Ruiz de la Hermosa explains that Las Tablas went from not having almost no birds when they were dry to 23,000 in 2010, the wet period, which gives insight into their capacity for recovery. They are also re-growing the ova, base algae of the trophic chain, which killed the pollutants carried away by the heavy rains of the wet period. With them, the red duck has reappeared: last year 180 pairs were counted against 100 in 2017. "There can no longer be a natural regime, but you have to reach a balance," the park director demands.

"With less water, it would not be profitable", say the irrigators

Araceli Olmedo presided until 30o8, during 30 years, the community of irrigators of Alcázar, one of the most important of the aquifer 23. It speaks of its obligation to take care of it so as not to leave to the future generations "a secarral". But, in his opinion, it is not about reducing water withdrawals, but about improving control "because there are always people who get out of their mothers and extract more than what is allowed." Olmedo tells how the Administration did not stop the construction of illegal wells for years, which led to the overexploitation of the aquifer.

There it ended up taking out 4,278 cubic meters per hectare per year, which have gone to 2,000 for herbaceous crops and 1,500 for woody crops. A few amounts that, he adds, "can not be lowered, because it would not be profitable." Olmedo considers it essential, in addition, that the Administration involves the irrigators in their decisions and that administrative procedures are streamlined. "The Guadiana Hydrographic Confederation knows that water is removed unduly and that who harms is who has everything in order." Olmedo asks that when they denounce any exploitation, the confederation should go immediately and fine it. "I know they do not have the means, but we offer them collaboration agreements," he says.


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