Spain taken to court for over-abstraction aquifers Coto Doñana

Coto Donaña is an mportant habitat for birds migrating between Europe and Africa. Photo: Water News Europe.

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The European Commission is taking Spain to the European Court of Justice (EJC). The Member State is not sufficiently protecting the aquifers of National Park Coto Doñana in Andalusia. Advocate General Juliane Kokott of the EJC stated the 3d of December in a declaration Spain is violating European Union conservation rules. According to her the area is under too much pressure from strawberry farming. The judgement of the European Court of Justice is expected soon.

The strawberry farms in Coto Doñana need a lot of water and the use of illegal water wells has led to severe depletion of groundwater. Due to the agricultural activities important water ponds in the national park dried up causing serious problems for migratory birds. In her declaration Kokott writes Spain did not do enough improve the situation and to figure out how much water is extracted illegally. The advisory opinion of the Advocate General is used by the Court of Justice’s judges as a guidance. They will announce their judgement later.

Continuing problem

The European Commission sued Spain in July 2019 in order to force it to protect the reserve’s aquifers. Spain argued that it was implementing plans to reverse decades of water exploitation and it said many of the problems predated EU conservation regulations. But Kokott states Spain’s preservation plans were insufficient and she points to studies showing that excessive water extraction is not only a historic problem but is still going on.

WWF

In September this year the WWF Spain called again for urgent action to protect Coto Doñana. WWF first filed a complaint to the EU in 2010 but until now the situation has not improved.  “Despite the continuous complaints and scientific evidence, Spain and the autonomous government of Andalusia  have not taken the protection of Doñana seriously for decades and have failed to protect the Doñana World Heritage Site. It’s time to safeguard the star of Europe’s protected areas or we will lose the wonder of Doñana forever”, Juan Carlos del Olmo, Secretary General of WWF on their website.

Ecological collapse

According to WWF Spain the measures presented sofar by the Spanish authorities are not ambitious enough and even include unsustainable solutions for the recovery of the aquifer such as water transfer projects that do not take into account future scenarios of climate change. As a result of the situation of the aquifer, the Spanish government has declared three out of the five groundwater bodies that feed Doñana wetland at risk of not reaching the good status in 2021. The official declaration as overexploited shows that the current regime of exploitation of the Doñana aquifer is totally unsustainable and paving the way for ecological collapse.

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