SEVILLE – In a worrying context of drought and more and more municipalities tightening water restrictions, the House of Alba, a prestigious ducal family, with a fortune estimated at €3 billion, is suspected of illegal water extraction near the Doñana National Park.
It concerns the family of House Alba. The Dukes and Duchesses have been major landowners in Spain and especially Andalucia for centuries. A recent indictment by the public prosecutor in Seville focuses on the practices of this noble family. The Guardia Civil’s environmental department has discovered eight illegal wells for the irrigation of their estates in the Aznalcázar municipality. The wells were hidden under green tarps between the orange trees. Moreover, they would draw water from a vital underground water reservoir to irrigate vast orange groves. Furthermore, this water reservoir is crucial for the biodiversity of Doñana National Park.
The court has summoned the youngest daughter of the 18th Duchess of Alba, who acts as legal representative of Eurotecnica Agraria SA, to testify. The family, which has a revolving carousel of board members, with Eugenia currently at the helm, may see their son Luis Martínez de Irujo called as a witness instead of the youngest daughter.
Silence on the website
Casa de Alba’s website currently makes no mention of sales of the noble oranges in question. However, the range of other products from their extensive agricultural range remains prominent.
The damage from this illegal water extraction is estimated at more than 305,000 cubic metres. This has 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.
The Public Prosecution Service has requested that the wells be sealed and that the House of Alba family post a bond to cover any civil liability that may arise from this case.
More than €210,000 in government subsidies
Eurotecnica Agraria SA, the company managed by the Alba family that manages the finca with orange trees, has received government subsidies totaling €53,289 in 2022 and more than €210,000 since 2019. This is reported by La Marea, an independent news cooperative, based on the investigation of the illegal wells. The grants were awarded by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the regional government of Andalucia.
Doñana in danger
Illegal water extraction seriously endangers the ecosystem of Doñana, with the risk of salinisation of the area, with disastrous consequences for the flora and fauna.
Legislation and sanctions
Under current Spanish water legislation, there is no payment for the use of groundwater, but farmers must pay a canon to the local water community. This community regulates who can use, when, and how much water, depending on availability and precipitation.
The issue of illegal water extraction is not new and not unique to the Alba family. Many owners, from small farmers to large landowners, are guilty of this practice. However, the administration appears powerless to take effective action, perpetuating the cycle of illegal water use.
The fight for water justice
The judiciary and administration grapple with the complexity of these issues. In the meantime, time does not stand still for the environment. Organisations such as WWF Spain work tirelessly to expose these illegal practices and bring those responsible to justice. The recent sentencing of five brothers to prison for water theft from Doñana National Park marks a turning point in the legal approach to such crimes.
Also read: European pressure to save Doñana