THE European Commission has threatened to penalise Spain if plans go ahead to extract more water from one of Europe’s largest wetlands.

The warning comes after the regional Andalucia government last week voted to expand water rights for farmers close to the Doñana National Park.

Ecological Transition Minister, Teresa Ribera, has called on the measure to be withdrawn and that the issue of water rights was a responsibility for national and not regional government.

The Doñana National park is home to endangered species such as the Iberian Lynx and the Spanish Imperial Eagle.

Wetlands are also seen as key for storing carbon dioxide in the fight against climate change.

An EU ruling was issued last year demanding the Doñana area, a UNESCO World Heritage site, be better protected.

The European Court of Justice ruled that Spain broke EU law by failing to stop the deterioration of protected habitats in the park.

Commission spokesperson for the environment, Daniela Stoycheva, said: “We are deeply concerned about the recent plans that would add to the unsustainable levels of water abstraction.”

The Commission said that it would act ‘swiftly’ if Spain did not act, but any likely penalties appear to be only financial.

The latest developments over Doñana could open up irrigation rights to as much as 1,900 hectares for agriculture, according to the WWF who have made previous complaints to the European Commission.

They claim that thousands of wells had been operating legally for many years to service strawberry farms.

Florika Fink-Hooijer, the commission’s director general for the environment, has sent a letter to Spain’s government expressing her unease with the Andalucia proposal and urged action to stop it going ahead.

The EU is already sifting through complaints filed with it about the lack of action to prevent pollution to the Mar Menor lagoon in the Murcia region.  

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