… or is it? As regional government backtracks on water plans, green groups claim Trevelez river is turning into a “sewer”
LOCAL residents and green groups are celebrating after the regional government backtracked on a plan that could have led to the destruction of one of Spain’s most spectacular areas of natural beauty.
The Junta de Andalucía had planned on pumping 52 litres of water per second from the Trevélez river to supply a planned second reservoir in the Contraviesa mountain range.
Opponents of the project claimed this would have led to the river drying out and the mountainous Alpujarra region – made famous by Driving over Lemons author Chris Stewart – faced with desertification.
Now, following months of fierce opposition and threats of legal action from locals, environmental groups and even a political party, the regional government has decided against building the seven-million euro, 350-million-litre capacity reservoir.
Instead, up to 20 litres of extra water per second will be pumped to the existing reservoir in times of high demand from its existing source – the Castaras acequia (irrigation channel).
Speaking at a press conference to announce the decision, Joan Corominas from the regional water board, Agencia de Aguas Andalúz, said: “The important thing is not the construction of a second, but meeting the current demands of the Contraviesa through the existing reservoir.
“Although 13,000 people live in the Contraviesa, this figure can jump to more than 20,000 during the summer. It is at this time more water will be pumped to the existing reservoir,” he added after meeting with Granada representatives from the Junta and 22 local mayors.
Corominas also eased fears that future construction on the coast would lead to the plans being put back into action.
“Water for any future construction work or housing developments will be supplied from the Rules dam.
“We are sensitive to the fact water plays such a huge role in the identity of la Alpujarra, which is famous for its spectacular scenery, fauna and flora,” he said.
Maria Aragon, a spokeswoman for the Mesa del Agua de la Alpujarra group which had campaigned against the proposed second reservoir, welcomed the Junta’s decision.
“We are satisfied with the outcome. The Trevélez river was going to be drained to supply water to the coast. This would have led to the unique landscape of la Alpujarra being destroyed,” she said.
However, some local groups are unhappy with this alternative, claiming towns and villages in the Contraviesa mountain range should already be supplied with water from Rules dam.
Amadeo Jiménez, the head of the Trevélez water association, said: “The solution is not to take more water from us but to use Rules.”
The shelved second reservoir has been mired in controversy since its inception in 2005, with claims it was illegally included in an emergency drought plan intended solely for the Málaga province.
The United Nations had even voiced their concerns over the project, claiming the water from the second reservoir “would be used for dubious housing and golf projects on the coast.”
The Junta had always denied this claim, but opponents to the scheme were never convinced and the provincial Green party was prepared to take the regional government to court, claiming it was in possession of documents showing the water was destined for a nearby golf course complex and invernaderos (plastic greenhouses).
Nearby residents also faced having 135,000 square metres of land forcibly expropriated to make way for the multi-million euro project. One of those was Briton Tony Angel, who moved to the area in 2001.
“My wife and I are very pleased with the cancellation of this project. A great weight has been lifted from our shoulders.
“The whole area would have been environmentally – and economically – ruined,” he said.
Meanwhile, environmentalists fear la Alpujarra could still be faced with the threat of desertification.
Ecologistas en Accion has claimed the Trevélez river, which flows through both the Sierra Nevada Natural and National Park, is still in danger of drying out as human waste turns it into “a sewer.”
The group claims that nothing is being done to clean the river, despite complaints being made annually since 1999 to the public prosecutor.
The group allege that the authorities are not interested in cleaning up the river.
“Ever since we started making these complaints, the authorities are always finding some excuse not to do anything,” a spokesman for the group said.
I welcome the note of caution in your headline “Alpujarra saved…” but worry about the general triumphant tone of those quoted. In fact, the solution as described in your news item may be the worst of all possible solutions when considering its possible effects on the Rio Trevélez.
The proposal to construct an additional reservoir on the Contraviesa, was, and is, misconceived but…. it would have allowed for the possibility of drawing water from the Rio Trevélez at times of the year when water in the river is more abundant. The currently suggested solution to take more water during the summer leaves the river more endangered than previously at its most critical season, and is a severe defeat for those fighting to safeguard the river.
Perhaps not all readers will be aware of the link between the Contraviesa, the Acequia de Cástaras and the Rio Trevélez. To be clear; the acequia takes water from the Rio Trevélez at a point inside the Parque Nacional, feeds an intermediate reservoir above Cástaras and from there, water is fed by pipeline to the Contraviesa. This scheme was ill-advised 15 years ago when initiated, and is even more misguided now that we have an alternative.
It would be inexcusable to make a bad situation worse by ignoring the new circumstances in which we find ourselves with the Rules dam in existence.
All of us who were interested in campaigning to safeguard the ecology of the Alpujarra, and the Rio Trevélez in particular, should be even more worried now than before and should not relax following this apparent victory.
We should take the proposal of the Junta (referred to in your editorial) to improve water services by spending the millions previously destined for the reservoir, as a hook on which to hang a new campaign. This being for the installation of a new pipeline from Rules to the existing Contraviesa reservoir and the total abandonment of the existing pipeline from the acequia de Cástaras.
This solution could draw its power from Rules to pump water which has already seeped through the Alpujarra and is truly available for secondary uses following its primary one of maintaining the quality of life in its natural basin.
Thanks walkalpujarra for a very informative response to the article. It is with informed on the ground information such as yours that helps others to see the larger picture of an issue such as this.
please keep us informed.