13 Apr, 2023 @ 15:45
2 mins read

New plan to grant watering rights to farmers near Spain’s Doñana National Park sparks outrage

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A FRESH row has broken out over the future of the Doñana National Park in Andalucia, after the regional parliament approved legislation on Wednesday that could see watering rights regularised for some 800 hectares of farmland located near to the protected wetlands. 

In a moment of political theatre during the debate in parliament yesterday, leftist politician Maribel Mora Grande dumped a jar of sand from Doñana on the parliamentary seat of the regional premier, Juanma Moreno Bonilla of the conservative Popular Party (PP), in protest at the plan. 

The parliament voted on Wednesday to consider the new bill, which is fast-tracked and could come into force as early as August. The legislation won the backing of the governing PP and far-right Vox, with 72 votes in favour from a total of 109 seats. 

Maribel Mora dumps sand on the parliamentary seat of Juanma Moreno.

Under the plan, agricultural land that is currently illegal or on the margins would be regularised. While a lot of farmland in the area – much of which is used to produce strawberries and other fruits – is legal, a lot is irregular or on the margins of being so. 

In fact, environmental NGO WWF estimates that there are around a thousand illegal wells in the area that are being used to supply these farms. 

While the PP has not stated exactly how much land will be affected, it has said that the bill will ‘benefit around 600 families’ who are currently in an irregular situation.

But scientists are warning that new irrigable land in the area will put yet more pressure on the Doñana park, depleting the levels of its aquifer yet further. 

The water levels in the aquifer are at their lowest in decades, while the reservoirs are currently at 25% due to illegal wells, drought and the water supply for the nearby tourist destination of Matalascañas.

Around 60% of the temporary lagoons in Doñana have not flooded since 2013, which has led to the disappearance of flora and fauna, according to a report from the Doñana Biological station, cited by Spanish daily El Pais

The European Commission has a long-running probe into the over-exploitation of the park’s aquifer, and earlier this year, when the PP first announced its current plans, sent another letter warning that it will take ‘all measures necessary’. 

A dried-up area of the Doñana National Park.

The central government yesterday voiced its disapproval of the bill, with the Minister for the Presidency Felix Bolaños saying that the administration of Socialist Party Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez will do everything it can to save Doñana from the ‘hands of the PP and Vox, who want to plunder the environment’. 

Teresa Ribera, the minister for environmental transition, said that she was ‘very angry’ with regional premier Juanma Moreno Bonilla, saying that an increase to the watering of crops in the area would be ‘an outrage’ on the basis that there is not enough water there to do so. 

Supreme Court

The central government has also made clear that it will take the legislation to the Supreme Court if and when it comes into force, while critics claim that the whole initiative is simply a ploy to win votes ahead of the local elections scheduled in the area for May 28.

The Doñana National Park is located on Spain’s southern coast, on an estuary at the point where the Guadalquivir River meets the Atlantic Ocean. 

It is a wintering site for half a million waterfowl and a stopover spot for millions more birds that migrate from Africa to northern Europe, according to news agency AP. It is also home to five threatened bird species, including the endangered Spanish imperial eagle.

Read more:

Spain’s Doñana registers lowest number of wetland birds in 40 years

Two businessmen jailed for two years for illegally extracting water from Spain’s Donana National Park

Simon Hunter

Simon Hunter has been living in Madrid since the year 2000 and has worked as a journalist and translator practically since he arrived. For 16 years he was at the English Edition of Spanish daily EL PAÍS, editing the site from 2014 to 2022, and is currently one of the Spain reporters at The Times. He is also a voice actor, and can be heard telling passengers to "mind the gap" on Spain's AVLO high-speed trains.

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