THE SPANISH NATIONAL HYDROLOGICAL PLAN
Spanish National Hydrological Plan (SNHP) and the social opposition
THE NHP AND WATER MANAGEMENT IN SPAIN
GENERAL EFFECTS OF THE NHP
REPERCUSSIONS OF THE NHP IN AREAS
1. THE NATIONAL HYDROLOGICAL PLAN AND WATER MANAGEMENT IN SPAIN
The Spanish National Hydrological Plan (NHP) is a legislative bill which includes the building of 863 different infrastructures, such as large dams, water transferences and the canalising of rivers. The main point, though, concentrates on a large interbasin water transference of 1,050 Hm3/year from the River Ebro. This water would be transferred to Catalonia (190 Hm3), Valencia (315 Hm3), Murcia (450 Hm3) and Almeria (95 Hm3). To this end, the Plan also requires the construction of large reservoirs in the Ebro Basin to regulate its flow.
The total cost of the NHP is estimated at 23,500 million Euros. Spain expects the European Community to pay for 30% (7,863 million Euros) of this, via Regional and Cohesion Funds.
Spain, as with most Mediterranean countries, is characterised by its scarcity of water resources. The planning and management of these resources has been based for decades on creating new irrigation lands and constructing huge hydrological works, such as dams and water transferences via canals. These have always been subsidised by the state. In the 1950s this policy could have been justified because of the economic and social reality of Spain at that moment. However, at present the needs of Spain are completely different.
A hydrological plan is necessary, especially in a country like Spain with scarce water resources. However, its design must never be tendentious, nor anachronistic. It must not be planned from the economics of construction, which only favours specific political and economic speculation, but rather from a planning of a country's resources to improve conditions for everyone. It has to look forward, not backwards.
A hydrological plan should objectively analyse the existing resources (supply) and plan their future uses (demand) from a sustainable approach, without generating new socially and environmentally negative impacts. For this, it is important to know what our present resources and real needs are.
The present Plan (NHP)
is essentially based on justifying the conditions to allow inter-basin
water transferences. The main one would be from the river Ebro to Barcelona
and to the south-east coastline of Spain (Levante) (distances of 200 and
1,000km respectively). The reasoning behind this is the supposed "water
resource deficit" of the Levante and supposed "excess flow"
of the river Ebro. Why this area suffers from this apparent deficit is
not analysed. Likewise, solutions which would not put at risk the
The social rejection
of the NHP is mainly due to this huge transference of water from the Ebro
and the proposed large dams along the river basin to regulate it and store
water for this project. This rejection is based on solid technical arguments
given by the Spanish scientific community and has become even stronger
because of the lack of dialogue offered by the government ever since the
first publication of the proposed projects (5 September, 2001). This lack
of dialogue has even led to the extreme case of the
2. GENERAL EFFECTS OF THE NHP
This Plan proposes
huge constructions and public works of doubtful economic, social, and
environmental viability. These include over a hundred new reservoirs and
the transferences of water from one river basin to another, especially
the aforementioned one from the Ebro to the Jucar and Segura basins (1,000km)
and to Barcelona (200km). It also includes the channelling of rivers,
reforestation, new irrigated territories, improving the water supply to
villages and the treatment of water and waste. Many of
The large transference of water from the Ebro of 1,050 Hm3/year (15% of its average flow over the last decade) will increase even more the regional inequalities between interior, mainly rural, lands and the coastline - urban with speculative agriculture and not respecting a good water resource planning and management. All this would be subsidised by the government or the European Community to reduce the construction costs.
The scarcity of water,
worsening of its quality, and its manipulation by humans, leads to the
deterioration of rivers, lakes, deltas, wetlands, riverside woodlands
and mountain areas. This is due to the unlimited extraction of this asset,
which not only fails to solve the existing problems, but also creates
new ones. These large works affect Special Bird Protection Areas and Common
Interest Areas, created for the protection of fauna and habitats, Ramsar
wetlands, and areas designated for protection under the
Besides this, the estimates for the flow of the Ebro are wrong as they are over-evaluated at present and do not take into account future effects of the climate change. In recent decades the average flow has decreased spectacularly, by about 50%, due to the excessive water uses and proliferation of reservoirs.
1960s: 16,842 Hm3/year
REPERCUSSIONS OF THE NHP IN AREAS WHERE THE WATER
There would be many negative repercussions along the Ebro basin if the NHP is carried out. These include the negative effects for the Delta, the survival of which would even be at risk, and in the mountains of the Upper Ebro, where many reservoirs are to be constructed. These would be the two most notable impacts, but there would also be a negative impact on fauna, vegetation, and cultural heritage sites, such as the St.James' Way. We will now analyse the first two aspects:
3.1 THE DELTA OF THE RIVER EBRO
The awareness of the
need to preserve the environment because it is a natural heritage of the
whole of humanity and has to be preserved for the present and future generations,
is felt strongly in the inhabitants living along the final stretch of
the river Ebro.
The international importance of the Delta goes back to 1962, when it was included in the list of Euro-African wetlands of international interest. It was declared category A by UNESCO, the highest category. Later it was declared a Wetland of international importance by the Ramsar Convention in 1971, and by Spain in 1982. In 1979 the European Union declared the Ebro delta a Special Bird Protection Area (SBPA) and it has been proposed as a Common Interest Area (CIA) for the Nature 2000 network. In addition to this the European Council has declared it an important area for its fauna and flora, with 77 protected species, 8 of which are plants and the rest vertebrates.
All these international recognitions and the urgency to guarantee the conservation of the Delta as a valuable natural area, concluded in 1983 with the creation of the Natural Park of the Ebro Delta by the Catalan government, with the aim of preserving its ecosystem .There are many species of plants and animals, some of which migrate, some of which live there all year round. There are more than 350 species of birds alone.
The biggest impact that the NHP will have on the Lower Ebro area, will be in the Ebro Delta. This Delta has been formed by the river. Historians and scientists have shown that in Roman times - and for a long time afterwards - the Delta didn't exist. The Delta began growing after the Middle ages as a result of the deforestation in its Basin (caused by fires, the tendency to cultivate new land, and the mass felling of trees for buildings and ships).The unprotected soil was then eroded by rain, carried down the river and deposited in its estuary.
At present the Ebro Delta has three very important problems :
1) Regression. The
sediment flow of rivers is very important to maintain the coast, beaches,
and river deltas. The Ebro Delta is physically losing land as it regresses
backwards. This regression has been the most immediate consequence of
the reservoirs built
2) The subsidence of the Delta is produced by the sediments compacting due to their own weight and human activities. It is calculated that the height of the of the Delta above sea level is being reduced by about 3mm per year. The fact that sediments aren't reaching the Delta prevents the compensation of this subsidence which, together with the expected rise in sea level , could cause a large part of the Delta to drop below sea level.
3) The penetration
of sea water into the river is the direct result of the reduction of the
amount, and consequently of the force, of the river water that enters
the sea. This reduction of river flow, has been produced by the effects
of the agricultural, urban, industrial and energy use of the water in
the last decades. The heavier salt water forms a wedge which moves upriver
below the fresh water as the sea wins its battle against the river. There
often appears to be a lot of water in the river but in the Delta it is
3.2 RESERVOIRS IN THE SPANISH PYRENEES
The National Hydrological Plan (NHP) proposes the construction of at least a hundred reservoirs throughout Spain, for diverse uses such as agriculture, urban water supplies, and hydro-electric power.
The Ebro Basin's storage capacity in reservoirs is already 6,500 Hm3 (40% of its natural assets of 17,000 Hm3/year). Two other reservoirs have been completed; Itoiz and Rialp (being filled at present). This capacity is predicted to rise to 9,850 Hm3 (58% of the natural assets) thanks to the construction of nine Big Dams and many smaller regulating ones. Amongst these we can find the dams at Biscarrues, Santaliestra, Janovas, Loteta and the increase in the capacity of Yesa.
However, during the period 1988-89 to 2000-01 the average amount of water stored in the Ebro's reservoirs was only 4,381 Hm3, much lower than the predicted storage of the NHP project.
This planned increased capacity for regulation of the river is directly linked to the proposed transference of 1,050 Hm3/year from the Ebro Basin to other river basins, as these reservoirs will act as storage facilities for this purpose.
In the last century, about 4,000 people have been forced to leave their homes and 30 villages have been emptied and flooded. Nine thousand productive hectares have been flooded in some of the most important valleys of the Pyrenees. The new dams will only worsen the effects on the population who live in these mountain areas, causing them to leave and increasing the regional inequalities between the rural and urban worlds.
Modifying the natural state of the Pyrenees' rivers will also affect the general working of all the Ebro Basin. Destroying kilometres and kilometres of riverside vegetation as they are flooded, will cause river spates to worsen and a loss in biodiversity. The rivers will become dehumanized, losing their social uses for bathing, meeting and leisure. This would mean a general loss in people's standard of living.
The needs of the hydro-electric
plants to regulate the water flow would make the river artificial, seriously
affecting the aquatic eco-system. Periods of low water would be lengthened
causing the death of fish trapped in pools, and an increase in pollution.
Artificial rises in the water level at the start of summer would have
a negative effect on the riverside vegetation and, hence, on the nesting
of water birds. Expulsing large amounts of sediment when the reservoirs
are cleaned could also have a serious impact
Dozens of canyons and gorges would be flooded. These sites are important for their biodiversity, beauty and capacity for cleansing water.
Experience has shown us that the construction of Big Dams causes the surrounding areas to be abandoned or suffer a change in their traditional use. This alters the ecological balance of this territory. The most fragile zones of clay and loam suffer from erosion, losing their productivity. This same soil then fills up the reservoirs as sediments creating yet another problem.
Besides these environmental and social impacts, historical and artistic heritage would also be affected, suffering an incalculable loss. This would be the case with the flooding of villages with catalogued ancient monuments, and a section of the St.James' Way in Aragon. This world famous historic pilgrims' walk has been declared a heritage site by UNESCO.
4. REPERCUSSION IN AREAS RECEIVING THE WATER TRANSFERENCES
The water management of the Spanish Levante (south-east coast), especially the Murcia region (Segura river basin) is confusing since each authority (central administration, autonomic administration, water confederation and governmental ministries) offers different data for water resources and demands. The National Statistics Institute gives an urban use of 67 Hm3/year, while the Basin Plans speak about 128Hm3/year for the same population, a difference of 91%. The second is the figure taken in the Spanish National Hydrological Plan (NHP) as being the present use. The same case applies to data about agrarian uses.
consumption creates environmental problems due to an unsustainable increase
in the demand for water: this rises from the 803 Hm3/year of water assets
available (supply) to a demand for 2,000 Hm3/year, an increase of 137%.
The existing transference of water (400 Hm3/year) from the river Tajo
to the Segura, constructed 20 years ago, has not solved the problems it
was designed to solve. In fact it has worsened them by promoting more
land and water rights speculation. This
The huge introduction of water from other basins causes social problems. It promotes a social inequality and speculation between the traditional agriculture of the Vegas and large businesses. The water speculators are in the area of Cartagena and Alicante while the local farmers of the Traditional Vega have to beg for water from a highly polluted river. The local administrations allow the illegal conversion of natural areas into irrigated lands, ignoring the complaints of SEPRONA, ecological groups and other local bodies. This has even happened to forests which, after a fire, have been given EU funds to be regenerated.. These reforestations are not carried out correctly and soon these lands are cultivated as irrigated lands. Hence, a natural forest can end up as a field of lettuces. These vast fields need a large amount of cheap labour. These workers are often illegal immigrants living in abysmal conditions, with the inevitable tensions ending in cases of racism and violence such as were experienced last year in El Ejido and Torre Pacheo. This kind of agriculture leads to an over-production of crops which only favours large businesses. These can take advantage of EU help to destroy this production and unbalance the markets. When the NHP was passed, 85% of the wells (13,500) in the Murcia region were legalised to be able to receive water from the Ebro transference. Before the 26 October (2001) these wells were not registered and did not figure in any legal records, which shows clearly the lack of control over water use in this area.
This region is deeply
concerned about water management but, until recently, ignored the regulations
relating to the treatment of waste water, nitrates and so on. According
to the Basin Plans there are high losses in the water distribution network.
The Spanish government (PP party) has recently down-graded 20,000 ha of virgin lands, highly valuable from an ecological point of view, thus encouraging more mass tourism and urbanism speculation. Lastly, it is worth noting the proliferation of golf courses and tourism needing a high water consumption in this region.
5. THE QUALITY OF THE EBRO'S WATER
The present water
policies in Spain maintain the false idea that the solution to the existing
problems is to address the "inequalities" between the abundance
of water of the "wet" Spain and the shortages of the "dry"
Spain. However, the large water transferences considered in the present
Hydrological Plan (NHP) are not from the true "wet" Spain. For
technical and economic reasons they come from river basins also affected
by the Mediterranean climate and, hence, with a natural shortcoming of
water too. This
The promotion of hydrological
infrastructures generates demands which become harder and harder to satisfy.
These include unlimited greed for increasing the amount of irrigated lands,
human settlements and industries in arid areas, with the consequent revaluation
of these lands. We believe that there has to be a firm change in the rules
of the economic game to move from the economy of more and more construction
of infrastructures , to that of using our resources in a sustainable way,
more in line with
The water transference from the River Ebro, the most important feature of the present NHP, is an ecological, technical, and economic disaster. A more realistic alternative would be to move the state's policies towards an improved management and saving of water.
The project to transfer 1,000 hm3 from the Lower Ebro to the southern-most points of the Spanish coastline treats the planning of the canal routes as if they were roads. It ignores not only whether the destiny is reasonable, but the quality of the water. It is not worth discussing the destiny of this water when the project fails to comply with what should be its first objective: offering water of a good quality.
To the aforementioned inequality in quantities of water resources between the "dry" and "wet" Spain, we must add this factor of water quality. A lower amount of water is usually accompanied by a worse quality. There is a clear deterioration of water quality as we follow a line downwards from the humid north to the dry south-east. The water of all the river basins in Spain is of a naturally poor quality except that of the north and Galicia.
The Ebro basin has
always suffered from naturally poor water quality due to the large presence
of salts in its middle and lower sections. This has been increased due
to the consumer uses along its course. Agrarian and urban waste has worsened
this situation. In the zone where the water will be taken from, the parameters
exceed the limits stipulated in pre-drinking water regulations by over
5%, as is admitted in the environmental report of the NHP itself. Besides
this, we must also consider the risks
Salt content samples
taken from the Ebro during the last decade from the two stations at either
end of the section where the water will be taken from (Mequinenza and
Tortosa) clearly show the poor state of the water. This water does not
match the requirements for pre-drinking water and could only be used for
limited yield irrigation and for flooding lands to avoid their salinisation.
It is clear that for this water to be useful at all would require desalinisation
and treatments not considered in the NHP. Costwise we must also mention
that these pharaonic infrastructures would require important pumping systems
of at least 3
We can see then that
by simply considering this factor of water quality, this NHP becomes the
worse option from any point of view. The technical, economic, and social
disaster represented by the Ebro transference, the "star feature"
of the NHP 2000, demonstrates the fallacy of the policy of promoting water
infrastructures and the offer of water (more supply) rather than studying
realistic demands. A century ago, when the Ebro had double its present
flow, with higher quality and lower salinity, and
Given the above, we have to conclude that there are two options available to Spain for water management in the future. One option is more economical and more sustainable but politically harder. The other is more wasteful, more unsustainable, but politically easier to implement. It just requires the maintenance of the status quo and giving more business to public utilities and construction companies, the production and sale of water, and the owners of these water concessions.
6. ECONOMIC ANALYSIS OF THE PROPOSED EBRO WATER TRANSFERENCE
A cost-benefit balance
sheet of the Ebro river transfer gives a negative result.
a)Very optimistic pre-mature budgets . This has been confirmed (as opposed to that stated in the PPE memorandum to the European Parliament) in the public bidding on the first stretch of the Jucar-Vinalopó river transfer that was recently suspended since the offers presented by different building firms exceeded the projected budget by more than 100%. Another example, the Itoiz Dam, a key piece in the NHP, which has already been constructed, has exceeded the initial budget by more than 100%.
b) Excessive redemption periods. Assigning all the investments a redemption period of 50 years, while acceptable for large reservoirs and canals, is not acceptable for many of the infrastructures envisioned in the NHP (25% of investments) such as pumping stations, retaining pools etc, the redemption period of which should not exceed 15 years.
c) Underestimation of the energy costs of pumping and overestimation of the energy producible by turbines. A methodological fraud is used in the energy chapter by substituting the necessary economic analysis with a financial analysis. The result is that the energy consumed is given half the price as the energy generated (0.03Euros/Kwh vs.0.07Euros/Kwh). As well as this, there is no serious consideration of the probable increase in energy costs in the next 50 years.
d) It is a conceptual
mistake to use as agricultural benefit the net added value . This procedure,
sometimes useful for certain fields, is not appropriate for analysing
a public investment for the development of capital-intensive private activities
with the only aim of maximisation of profits. By means of this error the
benefits are greatly inflated by considering as such labour and capital
costs. This brings the NHP to estimate the net profit generated on average
by Mediterranean irrigated agriculture as 0.72
e) The regulation
costs are not accounted for. According to the NHP the regulation of the
volume of flows must be carried out in the Mequinenza Reservoir, which
is private (owned by the hydro-electric company ENHER). Nevertheless,
in its calculations there is not 1 Euro of costs in the concept of expropriation
or compensation . As a precedent, in the Jucar-Vinalopó river transfer,
the Government has to pay the company Iberdrola 6 million Euros/year for
using the Cortes Dam that regulates a volume of only 100
f) The costs of water
treatment of the flows of the lower Ebro, which are considered to be of
poor quality, are not taken into account. The Ebro Basin Plan does not
consider this water potable due its high levels of salinity, so this would
mean important expenditures in water treatment, especially for urban uses.
Besides this, the Plan does not take into account the deterioration of
water quality caused by contamination from hundreds of thousands of new
hectares of irrigated land proposed by the NHP in the
g) The value of urban
flows is clearly overestimated. The mistake consists in falsifying the
application of the concept of opportunity value, upon considering the
desalinisation of sea-water (overpriced at 0.81Euros/m3) as the cheapest
possible alternative for urban necessities, instead of using the opportunity
value of agrarian water flows ( less than 0.18Euros/m3 on average in private
water markets in Murcia) as the most economical alternative. The simple
correction of this concept creates a
There will be no compliance
with the principle of Complete Cost Recovery. There is no assessment of
the modular costs of each section. An average cost of 0.32 Euros/m3 (underestimated,
for the above mentioned reasons) is offered, which hides the specific
cost of each section of the project. These costs, according to the Government´s
own calculations would be above 0.6 Euros/m3 for Almeria or Murcia, and
would reach levels of over 1 Euro/m3 for real costs if we used serious
calculations. This is in stark
7. SOCIAL MOVEMENT AGAINST THE EBRO WATER TRANSFERENCE
A large social movement
against the NHP has grown in the Ebro lands, in which many people of different
ages, conditions and ideologies group together. Business associations,
shopkeepers, agricultural cooperatives, trade unions, and others have
manifested their rejection of this NHP. Farmers, fishermen, students,
old age pensioners, civil servants, neighbours associations, cultural
entities and a large social representation, have participated in demonstrations
in Spain and Europe. These demonstrations have
An important point
to mention is the huge participation of women in this movement, not only
demonstrating but also carrying out money raising activities. There is
a stall in the local market in Tortosa, where our products are sold and
information given out. This gives the movement a continuity, popularity
and social acceptation. Young people are also actively involved, reinforcing
The opposition to
the NHP started in September 2000 after the Spanish government made their
Plan public. La Plataforma per a la Defensa de l'Ebre (PDE) was formed
at that time, and soon many groups (cultural, sport associations, economic,
and so on) from many different villages and towns of the Ebro lands, and
thousands of people from other parts of Catalonia (Spain) joined the PDE.
The PDE is a movement of assemblies, where all the actions are decided in open citizens assemblies. There are many local platforms acting at a local level. Representatives of the local platforms meet at the inter-town platform to study the themes and plan future actions. It meets also as an open assembly. Important debates and discussions are taken in a general assembly where anyone who can is encouraged to come along. There can be about a thousand people in one of these acts.
To discuss the future actions to take, affecting all the people living along the Ebro (from the Pyrenees to the Delta) there is a main Platform, involving all the organisations along the river.
Apart from all the
demonstrations in Spain, the most emblematic action that this movement
has done is "The Blue March". The Blue March started on the
10th of August 2001 in the Delta of the Ebro. It moved up the river, across
France( Pau, Toulouse, Lyon, Paris ) and into Germany (Cologne), then
Maastrich. In most towns the people participating were met by the local
authorities. In Paris, for example, they were received at the Environment
Ministry. The Blue March arrived in Brussels on the 8th of September and
events have seen Greenpeace include the fight against the NHP and the
Ebro transference, and the threats they pose to the river ecosystems and
Delta, as one of their priorities. They are actively following the case
and lodging their own petitions to the EU parliament. Their world famous
symbol, the Rainbow Warrior, docked in Sant Carles de la Ràpita,
on the Delta, on 5th February. Three smaller boats came up the river as
far as Amposta where activists abseiled from the bridge, opening up a