Doñana’s largest permanent lagoon is drying up again

by Lorraine Williamson
Doñana lagoon

ALMONTE – Doñana is a special nature reserve in the southwest of Andalucia, where – normally – hundreds of thousands of migratory birds reside every year. Expansive lagoons regularly saw pink flamingos and other unusual waterfowl. 

The biodiversity is so great that UNESCO declared the park a World Heritage Site in 1994. However, that biodiversity is also at risk this summer. The Santa Olalla lagoon, the largest permanent lagoon in the national park, has dried up completely for the second summer in a row. 

Overexploitation and climate change 

The Biological Station of Doñana, dependent on the Spanish Council for Scientific Research (CSIC), confirmed this last Wednesday. That this is happening for the second consecutive summer is an unprecedented fact. According to the researchers, this demonstrates the deterioration of the wetland caused by overexploitation by humans and climate change. 

Also read: Fuente de Piedra lagoon has turned into a salt desert 

This drought not only threatens fish, such as the endangered eel but also reduces the presence of turtles, according to the scientific institution. The CSIC also warns that the degradation of the lagoon system has left summer wetlands with shelters for the flora and fauna of Doñana’s biodiversity. 

The first technical factor that explains the decline of Doñana’s lagoon system is the lack of rainfall. The 2021-2022 hydrological season recorded the lowest precipitation levels in the last 10 years. The second factor is formed by the extremely high temperatures. 

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Overexploitation by agriculture and tourism 

However, as the CSIC warns, these are not the only or major causes. The over-exploitation of groundwater has significantly reduced levels of water resources. This is due both to intensive use in agriculture (which has increased the cultivation area by 30% in the last decade) and to “excessive extraction for water consumption” in the tourist area of Matalascañas. 

Agriculture and tourism 

Environmental groups, including Greenpeace, insist that responsibility cannot be attributed solely to climate change, but directly to human activity. “The growth and transformation of thousands of hectares under intensive irrigation, combined with the massive and illegal abstraction of groundwater, the alteration of canals and watercourses to the protected area, has led Doñana to a slow death struggle,” said Greenpeace. 

Legislation of Andalucia for more irrigation 

This unprecedented drought confirms the gradual degradation of one of the most important wetlands in the world. The future of Doñana has been under discussion in the Andalucian Parliament for some time. Legislation is pending from the right-wing regional council that could lead to the legalisation of 700 to 1,900 hectares of irrigation in the area around the natural park. The Junta still wants to implement it, despite strong opposition from the scientific and academic community both in Spain and at the European level. 

The Biological Station of Doñana proposes to urgently reduce the amount of water withdrawn from the aquifer. In addition, the system for assessing the condition of the aquifer must be updated and the availability of water evaluated annually. 

Also see: Nearly 9 million people in Spain face water restrictions 

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