Spain’s new national water plan sparks widespread controversy

Spain’s newly-presented National Hydrological Plan, which aims to distribute water evenly throughout the country, has met with heavy criticism from water-rich regions and environmentalists.

The most controversial proposal in the plan which was unveiled to the public on 5 September is to construct a 700 kilometre (434 mile) canal from the Ebro River basin in the north to the south-eastern Mediterranean region of Almería at a cost of 700 billion pesetas (US$3.7 billion), Spanish media reported.

The plan to construct the canal, which will transport just over 1,000 cubic hectometres of water annually from the water-rich regions of Duero, Tajo and Ebro to the water-starved south-eastern area, amongst others redistributing policies, was met with fury by the government’s of some of Spain’s 19 Autonomous Communities, who say they stand to lose out.

A press statement from the government of Aragón, which will provide a source for a canal, said that “it will oppose the National Hydrological Plan by every democratic means available.” It will increase the inequalities between Communities, and condemn Spain to a two-speed lane: the Mediterranean developed, rich one, and the interior one, becoming poorer, more unpopulated and less modernised,” the statement said. The Aragón government also accused Madrid legislators of introducing the plan in secret and without consultation from the regions.

Newspaper reports said that those Autonomous Communities providing water for new canals going the well-off Cataluña and Valencia regions as well as to the poorer Almería and Murcia ones will only receive 10% of total costs of transferring water.

Other new developments to be introduced under the plan including proposals to build up to 118 new dams and widespread irrigation infrastructure at a cost of US$15.7 billion were slammed by environmental groups such as Greenpeace and Ecologists in Action. Greenpeace said that a proposed canal and a reservoir in the northern autonomous community of Navarra would ruin an environmentally-sensitive area and force local people from their homes, and also accused the central government of a cover-up.

Defending his proposals, Spanish environment minister Jaume Matas promised not to implement any aspects “before achieving a consensus” between all parties involved. He pledged that the Ebro transfer would not result in any expansion of irrigated agriculture, which currently consumes 80 percent of Spain’s water supply, and also announced an ecotax to be levied on transferred water to compensate donor regions.

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