2nd February 2023
For many, Spain is a veggie patch. In the 60s, with the opening of Franco’s dictatorship to the European market, engineers planned a gigantic project to transfer water from the Tagus River to the Segura river, 260 km southeast, in a more suitable land for farming. Nowadays, it is almost dry, so the Government has got to set an ecological flow in Tagus to maintain its ecosystem function – which will reduce water transfer. Ecologists celebrate it as it has been mandatory by European law since 2000, but farmers claim it will bring economic and job losses.
Before the government set an ecological flow in Tagus river More water was diverted to farming than left on its natural course; it was allowed to transfer up to 650 hm3, while the river basin capacity was 800 hm3. So now, Two dams where the canal begins have three times less water than when engineers planned it.
Miguel Angel Hernández from Ecologistas en Acción Toledo (Ecologist in Action) recognises it was done when Spain was not in water scarcity, and there was no big environmental concern, «However, it is fair to say that the law had restrictions allowed to transfer and in the last year only has been transferred around 300hm3.
«The Tagus-Segura transfer was oversized, but the ecological flow follows scientific advise, so once it is guaranteed, we could transfer the rest.»
The agricultural sector in that area of Spain has a crucial role in the economy and employment. Lately, it has grown without control, and it has had ecological consequences as the ecocide in Mar Menor.
Farmers say it will put jobs at risk
On the other shore are the farmers, who complain because they need water for their fields. According to a farmer union, just Almeria, a province with vast vegetable production, will lose 15,000 jobs and 5.7bn €. They organised several demonstrations to claim solutions.
On one hand, the Government proposes nature-based solutions as Granada has for water administration, however the most heard option is desalinated water, although it has its issues, such as the brine, which contaminates the surroundings and the huge energy demand, which is not guaranteed to come from renewable sources and will peak the price. Andrés Góngora, general secretary of the farmers union in Almeria, COAG, says they are paying virtually the most expensive water in Spain.
«At the moment, the desalinated water was over the euro due to the reductions in the water transferred. Therefore, if there is no public support, it will probably reach over 1.5€.
«It is simply unaffordable for the farmers if they have to pay the price on their own.»
The central Government said they are working on setting a price cap. However, WWF Spain thinks farmers don’t pay the real cost, and they recall that water demand has increased much more than expected. Alberto Fernández, Water Program officer, says farmer corporations can pay more for the private use they do over a public service as the water is, «The water from the Tagus cost 0.17€, which is a very attractive price, but others farmers have been able to pay up to a euro.
«However, it is essential they recognise it is mandatory to maintain the ecological flow in the Tagus, which is something scientific.»
The key is maintaining Tagus’s birthplace in pristine conditions and allowing it to be a major river in the Iberian peninsula. Otherwise, it might fade out along its course to Lisboa.