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SPAIN: Water and the Ebro River

Miquel Struberll i Trueta of Barcelona responds to the posting on this subject:

"Water is increasingly an explosive issue in Spain. Demand for water rises, but rainfall doesn't (or at least it hasn't in recent years!). The Ebro river has, over the past 50 years, been dammed up in several places. This has reduced the amount of silt flowing down river into the Ebro delta, a vast area ideal for agriculture and a huge nature reserve (one of the main staging posts for birds migrating between northern Africa and western Europe). There are already signs of erosion along the coastline and, were the Ebro to lose even more of its flow, specialists say there is a real danger that the delta will disappear.

In addition, the Ebro flows for much of its length through Aragon, which though now a relatively prosperous region (close to the average for Spain), has gained per capita income as much by massive out-migration to other regions from rural areas as by the result of economic development and investment. So the Aragonese have an understandably heightened sensitivity whenever the water issue is raised. On Sunday October 8th a reported 300,000 Aragonese demonstrated in Saragossa against the new plan, which would divert a considerable amount of water from the Ebro (though downstream from them). They want more water for irrigation (the Monegros moors, for instance, are just by the Ebro, yet are almost completely abandoned. (What little water there is is brackish). They argue, and the point is a good one, that Spain still has a wasteful culture. Too little water is cleansed and reused in industry and the public services. Too much is simply thrown away. Unless per capita consumption starts to decline, all this, unfortunately, can only be solved in the long run by developing other methods: desalinization plants along the coast, massive recycling projects, or a large scale transfer of water from the Rhone, etc. The latter project was commissioned by the Catalan government, but the Spanish government has hitherto refused to consider it. Time will tell who was right...."

My comment: I still say politics was involved, since the national water plan was prepared by specialists. Water has become a global issue (we must add that to the themes of our conference on globalizations!). California has a real problem. Proposals to pump water down from Canada or the Columbia River met with violent protests, most of them silly.

Ronald Hilton - 10/09/00