The case of Julen, the boy who died in an illegal well in Totalán (Málaga), put on the table the problem of the illegal extraction of water in Spain, a gruye cheese whose holes try to plug the Seprona of the Civil Guard, which In recent years, it has filed 1,114 complaints about illegal wells detected.
According to Seprona data, to which Efe has had access, between 2013 and 2017 the agents of this specialized unit of the armed institute also processed 1,530 complaints for illegal extraction of water, both in wells, ditches, rivers, etc …
And of the wells detected with irregularities, only ten were closed.
By confederations, those of the Guadalquivir and the Tajo are the ones that accumulate the most complaints, both for illegal extraction of water and for illegal wells, with 470 and 371, respectively, in the first case, and 160 and 268 in the second.
In the Confederation of the Bay of Biscay the figures are much lower, with 84 reports for extraction and 14 for wells. In the Duero there are 247 and 169; in the Ebro, 204 and 57; in the one of the Guadiana, 169 and 120; in the Júcar, 43 and 30; in the del Segura, 67 and 46 and in that of the Miño-Sil, 76 and 71.
Captain Esteban de Diego, of the Headquarters of Seprona, recognizes, in an interview with Efe, that it is practically impossible to know the number of these illegal excavations, but he remembers that for many years in Spain "anyone was making a well" for his house field, sometimes even two, without prior authorization. And many, opted for a "bypass".
Against this gruyer "acts the Civil Guard in a double objective: to avoid the illegal extraction of a scarce good as is the water and to guarantee the security before the danger that can suppose an excavation not signaled and realized in any part.
They are two issues that go in parallel, adds the captain, but in a first instance the Seprona, as a service of protection of nature, places the focus above all on the fraud of water, on the abuse of this good.
One of the difficulties that agents face is the diversity of regulations in the different autonomous communities and confederations, some organizations with which the Civil Guard works hand in hand.
Because, as underlined by this command of Seprona, the opening of a well is governed by regulations, that of mines, but at the same time it must have municipal or regional licenses, as the case may be.
Meanwhile, the extraction of water requires other authorizations and has to be adapted to other regulations, sometimes different in each community. Almost always requires the installation of flowmeter to measure the flow and volumetric expense.
Each action of the agents may be different. On many occasions, the guards surprise someone who is starting to drill and does not provide the appropriate authorization from the municipality, so that complaint is filed with the city as a proposal for sanctions.
In other cases, the well is already done and the supervised activity is the illegal extraction of water. The complaint is processed before the corresponding hydrographic confederation.
Sometimes, it is the patrol of the Seprona itself that in the realization of the service observes that in a certain place, where before there was no well, suddenly there is a crop change that requires water. An investigation is initiated in order to check whether that water is now legal or not.
They are different actions that this unit of the Civil Guard carries out throughout the geography, although the greatest activity is centered in Castilla-La Mancha, Extremadura and Andalusia, regions with a greater problem of drought.
Not many wells are closed, but they are sealed by judicial order or by the corresponding administrative authority, which are the ones that finally decide the next steps.
Most of the complaints remain in the administrative area, but others go to criminal proceedings, such as those that are processed by the excavation of wells in aquifers over exploited or those abusive extractions affect natural resources and the ecosystem.
As Captain Esteban points out, "nature is not unlimited and there are areas that are very bad because of that abusive use". The digging of a well, he adds, is not something that can be "done lightly" and without authorization. If it is not done legally, "the water will run out," says this command of Seprona.
And as a first advice, the captain insists that if it is drilled, the minimum that must be done is to signal the well, because in more cases than it seems, it is not done.
Illegal wells – concludes Esteban – represent "a very serious problem" both for the extraction of a scarce resource and for the risks for safety. The case of Julen is an example.