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The River Ebro is one of the longest rivers in Spain, with a length of 930 Km and a River Basin of 86,100 Km2. Its source is in Fontibre (Cantabria), and it passes through nine Autonomous Communities before flowing into the Mediterranean sea where it forms the Ebro Delta (Catalonia). It is the third longest river in the Mediterranean, after the Rhone and the Nile. Its ecological richness is recognized at national and international levels. Most of the Delta is a National Park, recognized as being of International Importance by the Ramsar Convention. It is a Special Protection Area for Birds (SPAB - 79/409/CEE), a Community Interest Area (CIA - 85/337/EEC) and, furthermore, it is currently under review to be declared a Biosphere Reserve (UNESCO).
The intense use of its water throughout the Ebro Basin puts the river under strong pressure and affects its ecological functionality. The Delta is the most vulnerable part of the river, altered by the drastic reduction of water and sediment flows. This accelerates the deterioration of its water quality, with important pollution episodes, anoxia and salinization which cause strong imbalances in its natural ecosystems. This loss of biodiversity enhances the development of alien species, as well as the deterioration and disappearance of all kinds of life in the wetland, the coastal waters and the sea.
Currently, more than 90% of the sediments of the Basin are retained behind upstream dams. This lack of sediment flow causes important problems of regression and subsidence of the Delta. Research developed both by the Spanish Ministry and Catalonian Government, show clearly the loss of deltaic surface, as the rise of the sea level due to climate change worsens the effects of the lack of sediments.
Nonetheless, the draft of the Ebro River Basin Management Plan (RBMP) currently on the table does not propose any effective measures to improve this situation, nor does it monitor the evolution of environmental conditions, and so infringes almost all the environmental legislation currently in force.
Lack of democracy
The nine autonomous Communities involved definitely do not promote sustainable and integrated management. Instead, they support unlimited demand to increase water extractions for new irrigation areas and unsustainable uses, without taking into account the ecological necessities of the river.
Environmentally relevant amendments to the RBMP draft were not taken in account and decisions are being taken in line with the economic and political interests of only a few.
In fact, the agro-industrial lobby is extremely strong and aggressive in this River Basin because more than 90% of the basin’s water is used for irrigation and a huge interest exists in further developing irrigation channels to quench the thirst of highly polluting industrial crops and GMOs.
The Ebro Water Basin Authority still maintains the structure of the irrigation organization as which it was originally set up a century ago and it even acts in representation of the Spanish Environmental Ministry. This body includes in the Ebro River RBMP all the requirements and claims of this interest group without any technical or legal rigour.
This RBMP will cost Spanish citizens about 800 M€/year for the 6 year period of this plan, but no cost-benefit analysis has been made, so it is impossible to know if any of these investments will effectively improve environmental quality in the basin or who is really benefitting from them. Economic accounts are extremely obscure, as the RBMP admits: “in many cases the identification of costs and revenues in the Ebro Basin are a mere estimation”. They also state that “the proliferation of public and private companies involved in water management in the basin, are an obstacle for the transparency of accountability of investments”.
As a consequence, cost recovery is just as obscure as the general accounts. Estimated data in the RBMP is not realistic and according to our analysis this is actually limited to less than10% of real investment costs. No auditing is ever done to verify if public money is properly spent and we detected different accounting “tricks” which overrate infrastructure’s yields and undervalues their total cost.
Indeed, environmental costs are identified as the costs of environmental measures, which leads to false figures, “end of the pipe” solutions and does not identify the actors who determine the pressures. Therefore, this RBMP doesn’t respect the “polluter pays” principle nor does it use economic tools to enhance environmentally better practices in the Basin.