Environmental groups slam Spanish Governmental water plan

An ambitious plan, involving channelling water 700 kilometres to the parched south has been condemned by environmentalists as damaging to nature and possibly illegal under European law.

The National Hydrological Plan, published on 5 September (see related story) has already prompted a recent mass protest attended by up to 250,000 people who fear a threat to farming and the environment in the water-rich North. Environmentalists are now putting pressure on the European Union to withhold funding for proposals to build up to 118 new dams and widespread irrigation infrastructure at a cost of US$15.7 billion, claiming the programme breaks EU laws on water management and nature protection.

The Spanish environmental coalition, Ecologists in Action, said on 3 November that the water plan would harm Natura 2000 sites, environmentally sensitive areas protected by EU law. “If the (European) Commission supports the Spanish Water Plan by granting EU funds, this would imply that the EU finances the infringement of its own laws,” the group said. Environmentalists also claim that the plan will lead to breaches of the European Water Framework Directive, including failing to take the river basin management approach into consideration and unjustified exemption for agriculture from environmental charges included in water rates.

Meanwhile, the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), a federation of NGOs, said that the plan would lead to “total destruction” of sensitive areas and also called on the EU not to fund the plan’s implementation through its cohesion funds.

Threatened species such as the Iberian lynx and the otter would be particularly hard hit by plans for new dams, environmentalists say.

The Spanish Government has, however, begun to listen to some of the environmentalists’ demands, saying that it will consider a plan to plant trees along the new waterway and attempt to give as natural an aspect as possible to new water systems.

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