Hunt down water thieves in southern Spain
This episode of EuronewsWitness takes you to Andalusia, southern Spain, where our reporter Hans von der Brelie searches – and finds! – illegal water wells.
Two-thirds of Spain are threatened with desertification. The climate crisis is intensifying. And conflicts related to the use of water are on the rise. Doñana, one of the most remarkable nature reserves in Europe, is one such place.
Rugged rangers patrol the border of the Doñana Reserve. The intensive greenhouse agriculture industry is getting closer and closer. Some 80% of Spanish berry production is grown here. Strawberries puff the water from bird paradise.
Illegal extensions and pumping stations are mushrooming. The ground is perforated and turns into a kind of “Swiss cheese”. Antonio Santos, the head of unit of the Guadalquivir Hydrographic Confederation, reacted: “In the last four years, we have closed 1116 illegal water points. “
In the forest, tensions rise. Farmers vigorously defend their boreholes. Sometimes Antonio has to call in the Guardia Civil. Closing an illegal well is not easy. It’s a real paper war, with legal announcements and legal proceedings that can take up to eight years.
Doñana is protected by the Natura-2000 label of the European Union. The European Commission is concerned about a regional bill, proposing to legalize the irregular structures put in place by berry producers.
The nature conservation organization WWF is also worried. Felipe Fuentelsaz names the problem: “There are 2,000 illegal hectares and 1,000 illegal boreholes. It’s like the Wild West.
Julio Diaz is lobbying for greenhouse growers in the municipality of Lucena, accusing the WWF of using “unscientific methods” and attacking Spain’s central government for not channeling enough surface water from elsewhere in time.
While Julio Diaz promotes “100,000 jobs”, Doñana wildlife guide Sergio shows us the impact of drought on migrating birds. Usually, Sergio has 50,000 gray geese in his ornithological section. This year has just arrived 1200.
Sergio looks through his binoculars: “It’s totally dry. Normally the lagoon is covered in water and you should see thousands of birds. What happened? Is there only water for farmers? And no water for the birds? We have to share the water.
Asked for a statement, UNESCO reported a simple alert on Doñana to Euronews Witness:
- The World Heritage Center is concerned about the situation of the Doñana World Heritage site.
- The increasing drying up of the property’s water bodies directly affects the aquatic bird populations and is further exacerbated by the recent exceptional drought and seriously jeopardizes the exceptional biodiversity of the Natural Park.
- In recent years, the World Heritage Committee – the governing body of the Convention, made up of 21 representatives of the 194 States Parties to the Convention – has regularly issued warnings about the overexploitation of the aquifer and its potential impacts on the site.
- In 2021, the Committee asked Spain to urgently implement a “Special Plan for the Management of Irrigation Areas North of the Doñana Forest Crown”, which provides for the closure of all illegal wells, in its present form without modifications. The World Heritage Center continues to work with the State Party to ensure that this is done and that the universal value of the site is protected.
- But recent reports of potential local decisions altering this plan have rekindled concerns about the conservation of the site.
- In September, the state of conservation of the site will again be examined by the World Heritage Committee. During this meeting, the Committee can take any necessary decision, including the possibility of inscribing the site on the List of World Heritage in Danger.