THE EUROPEAN COMMISSION (EC) has dispatched an ultimatum for Spain to take immediate measures to improve the critical state of the aquifier which provides water to Doñana National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage wetland that ranks among the most important natural spaces on the continent.
The demand is the latest step in proceedings which began in 2010, when the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) submitted a complaint regarding the lack of basic water management in the park, leading to a severe deterioration in aquatic ecosystems.
The EC requested details from Spain, hoping the problems had been solved, but received an insufficient response, leading them to open formal infraction proceedings in 2014 after evidence that European Habitats and Water Framework Directives were being breached came to light.
Following two more years of head banging, Brussels now appears to have lost patience, and has set a limit of two months for Spain to outline precisely how it intends to enforce sustainable management of the aquifier, threatening to bring the case before the European Union Court of Justice should the impasse continue.
The pressure of agriculture, and to a lesser extent tourism, on the park’s groundwater has been growing for decades, with farmers excavating countless illegal wells for water extraction, while unlicensed extension of cultivated land within park boundaries remains unchecked.
In 2014 the Junta de Andalucia regional government approved a management plan which involved the removal of around 1,500 hectares of illegal crops and infilling of wells, but WWF representatives recently demonstrated that neither measure has been implemented.
Doñana, located in Huelva and Sevilla Provinces, is one of the most important sites for breeding and migrating birds in Europe, and also provides a refuge for the critically endangered Iberian lynx and Spanish imperial eagle, among countless other threatened species.
It featured alongside Belize’s coral reefs and the Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania, in the WWFs recent global campaign in defence of world heritage.
“We have been warning about poor water management in Doñana for many years, which is now leaving ecosystems on the verge of collapse and jeopardising the future of local agriculture itself,” said WWF Spain Secretary General Juan Carlos del Olmo.
“Both the Guadalquivir Confederation and Junta de Andalucia must listen to the European Commission and resolve the water conflict in Doñana once and for all, for the sake of nature and all of society.”