On the Edge of Survival, a Report on Paraje Natural Karst en Yesos de Sorbas by Ion Holban

Originally published in New Environmentalist online magazine, here, 3 March 2016; report was edited by Ciprian Diaconita (Environmental & Social Change UK); Maps were produced and provided by Alexandru Beldiman (Rights of Nature Europe); reprinted with express permission from the author

To give you an idea as to the background of Europe’s last remaining oasis in Paraje Natural Karst en Yesos de Sorbas, The Crowd Versus is publishing below part of the entire report which Ion Holban researched, examined, hiked, and published in 2016.

Since then, the situation in the aquifer has only worsened to a level above 400% overexploitation, as indicated in our post of September, link here.

According to Ion Holban, back in 2016, he and others found the following during their exploration and research:

Despite the ecological importance of the area, the park is currently only protected as a ‘Paraje Natural’. This is one of Spain’s lowest levels of protection. We found some economic activity in the Park including traditional agriculture and recently, intensive plantations.

Gypsum and olive oil are the region’s main economy and the park is surrounded by 7 open-cast gypsum quarries including Los Yesares, Europe’s largest gypsum quarry.

Intensive plantations can be found throughout the region, and most worryingly inside the park. Infrastructure in the park is over-developed with a motorway, bridges and several national roads. On top of that there is a high-speed railway through the Sierra Cabrera mountains a few kilometres away, with plans to build additional infrastructure.

In the last 10 years a new types of super-intensive olive plantations, (1,800 trees per ha.), have added an immense pressure on the underground aquifers that feed the park with non-renewable fossil water.

The ancient fossil water aquifer located in the Sorbas-Tabernas basin that feeds the river is severely overexploited, as indicated in the Junta de Andalucía’s Hydrological Plan of 2010, with an index of 330% overexploitation. [ . . . ]

Map 3 of the River Aguas, depicting fragmented or no flow areas with photographs of affected areas in original report

In our trips on the river we came across several areas where the river no longer flows and other areas where it has been fragmented to shallow pools. In particular we found no flowing water outside the villages of La Huelga, Los Giles and only shallow pools around Alfaix and further down, towards Turre, as detailed in the map below.

It is worth mentioning that we completed our walks on the river at the end of winter/ beginning of spring (February and March 2016) when the river flow is at its highest level. In the summer months the flow of the river is further reduced. From our assessment the river no longer has a continuous flow of water and it’s questionable if it can still be considered as a single body of water, fulfilling it’s potential as an ecological corridor.

Will the Last European Oasis in Spain Be Subjected to Too High Water Demands?

16 September 2019

Meeting to be held on rights to and designation of water usage 26 September 2019

The Regional Government for Andalucía has officially announced a meeting for the Community of Users. This meeting for all interested parties will be held on 26 September 2019, at 16h30 at the restaurant Las Eras de Tabernas, in Almería, Spain.

Background of the aquifer

The Aguas River is a short coastal river in the south of Spain that rises in the Sierra de los Filabres, province of Almería, an autonomous community of Andalusia, and flows into the Mediterranean Sea, near Mojácar.

In its path, the river has created the last (and only) functioning oasis in Europe situated in the Paraje Natural Karst en Yesos de Sorbas. When you visit the area, a perfect picture awaits you in Spanish sunshine and heat. Surrounded by an arid and desert area, it houses the typical banks of oleanders, reeds and rushes, and includes the presence of unique ecosystems, including 17 protected habitats and numerous endemic and rare species.

All this makes the park a biodiversity hotspot. This biodiversity hotspot has been officially defined as MP 2015, for “Management Plan for the Natural Resources of Paraje Natural Karst en Yesos de Sorbas”).

On the edge of survival

However, as with any rare and beautiful place, many species are in great danger from the massive over-exploitation of the aquifer. Right now, the rate of over-exploitation of water from the aquifer runs at an incredible 400%. Some of its wildlife forms have been placed on both the Spanish and international Endangered Species list. (A separate article on this will follow shortly.)

The Aguas River meanders 37 km, entirely in the province of Almería, irrigating the municipalities of Bédar, Los Gallardos, Lucainena de las Torres, Lubrín, Mojácar, Sorbas, Turre and Uleila del Campo. It is considered the main external water current for the karstic caves and underlying sinkholes of the Sorbas area.

The main spring of the Aguas River is located in the valley of Los Molinos Del Rio De Aguas, an Eco Village known locally as “El Rio”. The village contains typical Andalusian/Moroccan style  farmhouses.

By the time the river reaches the sea, it transforms into the wetlands of the Mojacar Lagoon. (personal translation of the original Spanish Wikipedia page link).

Announcement of the 26 September meeting

The beginning of September, an official bulletin was published by the Board of the Regional Government of Andalucía, entitled nr. 168 on p. 212, announcing the publication of a meeting. This meeting for all interested parties will be held on 26 September 2019, at 16.30 at the restaurant Las Eras de Tabernas, in Almería. People can only constitute an interested party if the appropriate documentation is brought in person to that meeting. Additionally, only the one meeting will be held to establish and form a Community of Users to the groundwaters of the Aguas River.

ENG translation of the Boletín Oficial de la Junta de Andalucía nr. 168 p. 212

Present developments of water demands

David Dene, President of the cultural Association Ecocidio El Rio, responded to the official bulletin of the Regional Government board of Andalucía province (BOJA) of 2 September 2019 (Edition nr. 168, pp. 212).

Drought fears
Fact: The Aguas River is now broken in its actual flow throughout the valley and along its complete length to the sea. Additionally, the river source itself is dry at this time.

This means that the El Rio De Aguas is no longer acting (cannot function) as a viable corridor of bio-diversity for 35,000 hectares of Nature 2000 protected environment, because there is not enough water to maintain the corridor which has become dry of recent months.

Fortunately for the people residing in the Eco Village of El Rio, the water for the villagers is coming from the 2,000 year old tunnel created by the Romans.

Water Concessions
At present, the official documents note what amounts to a huge imbalance of number of concessions  with maximum permitted water extraction,  which far exceed sustainability and sustainable demands.

The 1 200 farmers and villagers living and working nearby are dwarfed by 17 huge concessions, most of which are used for industrial agriculture.

For instance, one agricultural project encompasses 6 000 000 (yes, six million!) super-intensive olive trees covering over 5 000 hectares of land, all under irrigation from underground water (yes, from the aquifer!). Ever wonder where your Spanish olive oil came from?

(Not a complete) Overview of the area of olive trees requiring irrigation

The Ecocidio El Rio Association is investigating whether their demands to balance the waters for subsistence farming, including for the small villages, the production from vegetable gardens, and the keeping of livestock, will constitute adequate domestic subsistence farming, in order to be fully included with proper calculations for water usages.

More importantly, they wonder whether they will be accorded equal importance to the big industrial agriculture projects now extracting huge volumes of water and threatening their existence by withdrawing exorbitant amounts of water.

This latter is hypothesized from the position of the president of the Community of Water Users. Juan Callejón García is part of the Juan Carrion empire, which in turn is deeply involved in super-intensive olive production and another 250 businesses in the area. The Ecocidio El Rio Association fears that any decisions will clearly be biased towards the Juan Carrion business and the extremely high water requirements for super-intensive Carrion plantations.

Consequently, this represents a very real test of the water interests of the many and poor against enormous water requirements of the rich and few for agricultural productions and accompanying profits.

To be continued.