The Spanish Public Prosecutor’s Office and the environmental police are conducting an investigation into 37 individuals and companies for illegal water extraction and the discharge of nitrate-containing fertilisers in the Murcia region.
The images of beaches strewn with dead fish in the Mar Menor in Murcia have become all too familiar. This lagoon has been declared a “specially protected area of Mediterranean importance” by the United Nations. However, an ecological disaster is currently unfolding there. The valuable waters are severely polluted.
Diverse causes of pollution
According to the Public Prosecutor’s Office, the reasons for this pollution are diverse. It includes brine left behind from desalination plants, nitrates from fertilisers seeping into the ground and ultimately contaminating the lagoon’s water supply, and illegal discharges of wastewater.
In collaboration with the Spanish environmental police, Seprona, the Public Prosecutor’s Office initiated Operation Anoxic. Consequently, over the course of one year, 74 illegal water wells have been uncovered. These were used to irrigate hundreds of hectares by 37 accused farmers. Moreover, the fertilisers used in these activities are believed to have ended up in the Mar Menor.
Legal action against environmental offenders
Criminal proceedings have been initiated against those involved in these environmental offenses, with potential prison sentences ranging from six months to five years. Several official bodies have investigated possible contamination due to illegal agricultural activities in the area known as Campo de Cartagena.
Discovery of illegal wells
The investigation has revealed over seventy illegal water wells used by various agricultural companies. This situation is linked to the significant fish mortality in the natural area of Mar Menor in August 2021.
Overfertilisation impacting water quality
It is estimated that more than 25.5 million cubic metres of water were unlawfully used, resulting in significant overfertilisation of the soil with thousands of kilograms of nitrates. Moreover, according to Seprona agents, this has “affected the quality of the water in the aquifers of Mar Menor.”
Currently, an investigation is underway involving 37 individuals and companies accused of “15 offenses against natural resources and the environment for the unlawful extraction of groundwater and the dumping of large quantities of nitrates,” according to Seprona.
Optimism for the future
Despite the alarming facts, the public prosecutor remains optimistic about the future. He emphasises that “there are no sustainability issues when the law is followed.” He believes that measures such as confiscation or closure of agricultural businesses can serve as a deterrent against future violations. Furthermore, he stresses the need for personnel to conduct inspections and increased funding for research and development in water management.
Commitment to ecological restoration
Recently, the third vice-president and Minister of Ecological Transition of Spain, along with the president of the autonomous region of Murcia, reached an agreement with the intention of ecologically restoring the lagoon, signaling a commitment to addressing the environmental issues in the area.