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The EU will take action if Spain allows further deterioration of the Doñana wetlands

  • The EU will take action if Spain allows further deterioration of the Doñana wetlands

The European Commission has issued a warning to Spain about moving forward with plans to withdraw more water for irrigation in the surroundings of the Doñana wetlands, one of the most important protected wetlands in Europe, reports BNN Bloomberg.

Doñana, a vast coastal marshland complex in south western Spain, is an area of international importance for numerous species of breeding, staging and wintering waterbirds, and supports several endangered species. It is part of the migratory route of millions of birds each year. Designated a National Park in 1969, it also has several international protection designations, including Biosphere Reserve, Ramsar Site, Special Protection Area for Birds and Site of Community Importance under EU directives, as well as UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The quantity and quality of water entering the wetlands is threatened by groundwater extraction and other effects of agricultural and urban development. The decline in groundwater levels have made the site vulnerable to periodic dry periods. Strawberry farms play a large role in the local economy, and thousands of illegal irrigation wells are blamed for lowering the water table in the area.

In January 2019, the European Commission took Spain to the EU Court of Justice for failing to protect the groundwater bodies that feed the Doñana wetlands, and failing to take steps to prevent the deterioration of protected habitats in the area. Last June, the Court ruled Spain had failed to fulfil its obligations as per EU legislation. UNESCO has also asked Spain to address the issue of illegal wells in the Doñana surroundings out of concern for the deterioration of the site and requested a report on the state of conservation of the protected area.

A recent proposal from the regional government of Andalusia to expand water rights for farmers in the surroundings of Doñana has prompted the European Commission’s concerns. Daniela Stoycheva, Commission spokeswoman for environment, maritime affairs and fisheries, has said: “We are deeply concerned about the recent plans that would add to the unsustainable levels of water abstraction”. The Commission’s director general for the environment Florika Fink-Hooijer sent a letter to Spain’s government urging action on the matter, or else the Commission might take Spain to Court once again, something that could result in millions in fines.

The Spanish minister for the ecological transition Teresa Ribera has said it’s impossible to expand the irrigated area in the surroundings of Doñana, because there is not enough water for it, calling the regional government’s proposal “outrageous”. She said the Guadalquivir River Basin Management Plan, to be approved in the coming months, seeks zero growth of irrigated farmland. In addition, the ministry is working to improve wastewater treatment plants in the area whose effluent has an impact on Doñana.

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