Murcia High Court calls for halt to illegal irrigation near Mar Menor

by Lorraine Williamson
Murcia court stops illegal irrigation near Mar Menor

The Supreme Court of Murcia (TSJ) has this week issued important rulings in favour of the conservation of the inland sea Mar Menor, in the southeast of Spain on the Mediterranean Sea. 

The two judgements require compliance with the law on the integral protection of the Albufera. This imposes restrictions on agriculture to prevent the discharge of nitrate-polluted water into an ecosystem that has been in a disastrous state for years.  

Firstly, it has now been confirmed that the autonomous community is the competent authority to impose sanctions on agricultural enterprises in Campo de Cartagena for their polluting discharges into the salt lagoon, and not the state. On the other hand, a company has been ordered to grub up 4.91 hectares of irrigated lemon trees. Consequently, these must be replaced with crops permitted by law.  

Specifically, a farm in the Casa de lo Pereas area, in the highest protection zone established by law, must cut its irrigated crops and restore the land to its natural state, with crops that grow by rainfall. The company had previously rejected an earlier order for this, issued by Murcia’s Regional Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Environment. It argued that it had been irrigating since 1945.  This was 40 years before the Water Law that grants permits for this type of exploitation came into force. However, the Supreme Court pointed out in the ruling that the Confederación Hidrográfica del Segura (CHS) had already warned this agricultural company. In 2019 it was warned it did not have permits to use water.  It was also watering another 9,500 hectares of illegal crops.  

Law of the Mar Menor  

The Law of the Mar Menor clearly states that illegally irrigated land must be restored to its original state. The court emphasises that the agricultural company has not been punished and gives it two months to submit a plan to restore the rain-fed crops and six months to implement it. This is the second Supreme Court ruling to reverse irrigation in the Mar Menor protected area; the first ruling dates back to November 2021. It demanded the removal of another 4.99 hectares of citrus trees in the same area.  

Cogesa Expats

Division of powers  

In addition, in another ruling, the Supreme Court determined that the Murcia Regional Ministry of the Environment, and not the Confederación Hidrográfica del Segura, which is dependent on the Ministry of Ecological Transition, must bring an environmental liability action against agricultural companies for the damage they have caused to the Mar Menor with their discharges. This ruling was made public last week. Furthermore, it concerns eight companies that have been penalised for discharging pollutants from illegal desalination plants at the request of the Public Prosecutor’s Office.  

However, the autonomous community did not follow the required sanction procedure. Instead, it issued a report in which it considered the competent authority for implementing this mechanism was the Hydrographic Confederation. Indeed, the damage would have been done to the public hydrographic, maritime, and terrestrial domain.  

What will the regional ministry do now? 

Now the Court has issued a ‘slap’ to the constituent government of Fernando Lopez Miras. The Court is of the opinion that it is clear that it is about damage to the Mar Menor. Therefore, it is not about environmental liability for damage to the public water domain, but to the Mar Menor. This is separate from any criminal proceedings initiated by the Confederación Hidrográfica del Segura’. ‘What is at issue is the environmental liability for discharges into the Mar Menor, and the power to claim it, therefore, rests with the autonomous community,’ the ruling states. At the same time, the Court warns of the ‘serious deterioration’ of the lagoon. The regional Ministry of the Environment has declared its intention to comply with this ruling. And furthermore, to start the relevant procedures against the companies involved. 

Read more about polluted Mar Menor. 

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