Prison sentences for illegal water extraction in Spanish Nature Reserve Doñana

by Lorraine Williamson
prison sentences for illegal water extraction

SEVILLE – A recent court ruling in Seville imposes harsh penalties as a family face prison sentences for illegal water extraction in the Doñana protected natural area. The wetland is in danger of succumbing to drought. 

It concerns a couple of brothers who have owned a farm in Aznalcázar since the 1990s. The farm is partly located above the “Almonte-Marismas” water source. Moreover, this is the main water source for Doñana National Park. The four brothers and one sister each received a prison sentence of two years and five months. Furthermore, they are also banned from professions related to agriculture for two years. An additional one-year prison sentence was also imposed for damage to the environment. 

The farm, which grows cotton and rice, among other things, was authorised to use a limited amount of 3.48 million cubic metres of water annually for irrigation. The verdict found that the accused had flagrantly violated the stated limits. They even moved water from the northern to the southern part of their country through a large pipeline. Their actions pose a serious risk to the park’s ecosystem. Moreover, this is already under great ecological pressure and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

‘Complete indifference’ 

The water is a crucial factor in the Doñana ecosystem, which, among other things, functions as a habitat for several endangered species. The defendants, who had previously received thirteen sanctions for violations, showed “complete indifference” to the damage they caused, according to the court. 

Compensation for damages of almost 2 million euros 

The Confederación Hidrográfica del Guadalquivir (CHG), responsible for water management in the area, must receive compensation of almost €1.97 million from the convicted. 

Cogesa Expats

The ruling may still be challenged. However, if it stands, it will be the first case in Doñana to impose prison sentences for illegal water extraction. Moreover, it highlights the growing awareness and seriousness of environmental crimes in Spain. 

Doñana is threatened on all sides. Just like the intensive cultivation of red fruit in the vicinity of the park, the tourist resort of Matalascañas also withdraws too much water from the park. In addition, the Andalucian parliament last week approved the irrigation law. This will allow more hectares of land to be irrigated in the Doñana area. The Andalucian government (PP and VOX) seem deaf to the fierce criticism from international and national scientific circles. The law aimed at improving agriculture in the Huelva region could mean a death sentence for the already dry nature reserve. 

With an area of 100,000 hectares, Doñana is one of the largest wetlands in Europe. The nature reserve is on the World Heritage List. 

Also read: Shame on Spain: Doñana National Park risks being listed as Endangered World Heritage  

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