Casa de Alba is trying to regularise illegal wells near Doñana

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illegal wells

Amid legal proceedings surrounding environmental violations for “illegal water extraction” through the use of unauthorised wells, Casa de Alba is seeking to legalise eight of those illegal wells near the drought-plagued Doñana National Park.

Casa de Alba (the House of Alba) is one of the most prominent noble families in Spain, known for their extensive estates, historic palaces and art collections. The family, which dates back to the 14th century, owns significant estates and has a rich history of influence and prestige in Spain. The head of the family bears the title Duke of Alba. Casa de Alba remains a symbol of aristocratic tradition and heritage. The company that manages the Casa de Alba land, Eurotécnica Agraria, was thus charged with environmental violations for “illegal water extraction” through the use of these unauthorised wells in the municipality of Aznalcázar (Huelva).

Legal process

In the ongoing judicial investigation, Eugenia Martínez de Irujo, Duchess of Montoro, youngest daughter of the 18th Duchess of Alba, has been called in as a suspect. It also faces a charge of disobedience. This is because the Guardia Civil and technicians from the water company were prevented from entering the property. Agents and inspectors wanted to close the wells without a permit. These wells are used for irrigating gourmet oranges.

Positive advice for legalisation

The legalisation petition for these eight clandestine water points has received a positive advice from the Hydrological Planning Office of the water company in question. According to the submitted project, the number of wells would increase from two to ten. This would be without increasing the amount of water (606,000 cubic metres per year) officially allocated to the farm. The indictment from the Environmental Public Prosecutor’s Office of September 2023 estimates the damage from this illegal water extraction at more than 305,000 cubic metres, with a financial value of almost €37,000 for the most recent harvest. This is therefore only a fraction of the actual ‘water theft’ that, according to the Guardia Civil, has been taking place for at least ten years.

History of complaints

The first complaint against these illegal wells was filed by a private individual in April 2023. A month later a complaint followed from the environmental group Ecologistas en Acción. After inspections by the Guardia Civil and technicians from the water company, Eurotécnica Agraria submitted the project to legalise the wells in July. That was two months before the Environmental Prosecutor’s Office filed the official complaint against the wells.

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More efficient irrigation

Currently, Casa de Alba’s water concession covers 200 hectares of citrus and olive trees. The new application aims to reduce the agricultural area to 161.6 hectares with drip irrigation, 67.5 hectares of olive trees and 94.1 hectares of orange trees. The project emphasises that eight existing wells will be added without increasing the water quantity. According to them, this makes more efficient irrigation possible. The water company states that the legalisation of the wells will improve the hydrodynamics of the aquifer. This would distribute the water extraction over several points and prevent the formation of depression cones.

‘Never extracted more water than permitted’

The company has admitted that the eight wells already exist, but says they are only used as support. More water would never have been extracted than allowed. This claim is disputed by the plaintiff. The legal process includes a report from the Nature Protection Service (Seprona) of the Guardia Civil. That will be crucial for the decision to call Eugenia Martínez de Irujo as a suspect.

Doñana

The water reservoir to which the eight wells are connected is crucial for the biodiversity of the Doñana National Park. Excessive water extraction runs the risk of salinisation of the area, with disastrous consequences for the flora and fauna.

Also read: Code red for Doñana wetland: biodiversity in free fall

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