New Spanish leader to scrap controversial water transfer plan

The new Spanish Prime Minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, has ordered a review of the entire workings of the Spanish National Hydrological Plan and cancelled its most controversial project, the Ebro Transfer.

In a speech to parliament, Prime Minister Zapatero said: "This review will imply halting some specific infrastructures and replacing them with more efficient, cheaper and less disputed projects."

He added that the environmental consequences of any decisions would be taken into account.

The Spanish National Hydrological Plan (SNHP) has caused outrage among environmental groups since it was first suggested (see related story). It proposed a massive transfer of water from the north of the country to the south, which suffers severe water shortage difficulties due to such things as intensive agriculture and tourism.

The Ebro Transfer, which would have diverted water from the River Ebro in the north to river basins in Valencia and Murcia was particularly controversial. Protestors claimed it would have dire social, environmental and economic consequences for the region (see related story) and ruin one of Europe's most ecologically important wetlands.

Guido Schmidt, head of water policy for the Spanish branch of WWF, told edie: "This is a very positive statement from the Prime Minister and a big victory over water infrastructure projects throughout the world."

He said that the SNHP was one of the biggest water infrastructure projects in the world, along with the Three Gorges Dam in China.

The cancellation of the Ebro Transfer was not a huge surprise, however. The European Commission delayed funding on the project in December last year (see related story) and Margot Wallstrom, the Environment Commissioner, said she was not in favour of the project last month.

Mr Scmidt told edie that despite the good news over the Ebro transfer, WWF was still concerned about some of the other infrastructure projects, most notably the La Brena Dam in Andalucia. This would create an enormous reservoir in the middle of a Natura 2000 area, threatening local ecology and the endangered Iberian lynx.

However, he said that the new government certainly showed a lot of promise compared to previous administrations. Prime Minister Zapatero has said he will do his best to fulfil the needs of the Kyoto Protocol and has appointed a minister at the department of the environment with specific responsibility for climate change issues.

"If nothing else, it certainly raises the profile of environmental issues to governmental level," Mr Schmidt said.

By David Hopkins



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agriculture | wetlands

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