River restoration: demolishing obstacles to restore Spanish waterways

by admin
river with obstacle

Freshwater is one of the most valuable resources on earth due to its scarcity. The problem, however, is that rivers are often forgotten by the government, which damages their health. At the behest of the EU, Spain must also focus on river restoration by removing obstacles from the waterways.

Artificial barriers blocking rivers are among the main problems also facing Spanish rivers. In addition, invasive species that multiply and displace native species pose a threat to the rivers. More recently, drought is exposing the river bottoms, with all its consequences.

The current situation

According to 2011 data, 54% of Spain’s bodies of water are in good condition. This means that the remaining 46% does not meet the objectives of the Water Framework Directive (WFD). In the Cantabrian Sea basins the situation is better, but in others, such as that of the Segura, the percentage is not even close to half. This is what Josefa Velasco, professor of Ecology at the University of Murcia, says in the newspaper Informacion.

The causes of deterioration

The pressure on water resources and the impact on rivers has only increased. Demand has continued to rise, especially in the agricultural sector, which currently accounts for 80% of total water consumption, explains César Rodríguez. He is secretary general of the association AEMS Ríos con Vida.

In addition to these factors, there are other problems that undermine the condition of Spanish rivers, including the uncontrolled increase in groundwater extraction, the retention of sediments in reservoirs, the loss of deltas, estuaries and beaches, diffuse pollution from agricultural activities, and chemical pollution as a result of industrial and urban discharges.

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River restoration: action required

Urgent action is needed to restore the rivers. The European project AMBER, funded with €6.2 million, promotes adaptive management of dams and other artificial barriers. This aims to improve the continuity and ecological status of European rivers, while reducing the environmental impact and maximising the economic benefits of water exploitation. The continent’s main rivers are disconnected from the seas, which has a clear impact on the linked ecosystems.

The universities of Swansea (United Kingdom) and Oviedo published a joint study in ‘Nature’. In the study, dams, dykes, reservoirs, canals, wells, sewers or hydroelectric power stations that hinder the transport of sediments or prevent the natural movement of aquatic organisms fall into the category of ‘obstacles’. “The law requires infrastructure to be removed when it has not been used for three consecutive years. The concession will then lapse by operation of law. If they are not maintained, they cause blockages and can therefore collapse and cause major damage downstream,” Rodríguez points out.

Much more than just checkers

There are estimated to be more than 170,000 barriers fragmenting the habitat of rivers in Spain. When it comes to river fragmentation, confusion often arises about the type of barrier. Everything is reduced to checkers. Although scientists are aware of the controversy that arises among the public when it comes to dam demolitions, especially in a context of drought. In addition, they also realise the influence of the messages spread by certain sectors that claim that water from rivers flowing into the sea is equivalent to wasting a vital resource of influence. However, there are many more forms of barriers in rivers, such as small weirs, fords, intubations, canals… “It is absurd to think dams that provide drinking water or generate energy will be demolished,” adds biologist Carlos García de Leaniz.

Rivers free from obstacles

Managing this infrastructure is an enormous challenge. The density in Spain is 0.91 obstacles per kilometre. “Outdated infrastructure serves no purpose,” explains César Rodríguez. He recalls that the volume of available reservoirs in Spain has increased over the last ten years. The national goal is to have 3,000 kilometres of rivers free of obstacles by 2030. At European level, the aim is 25,000 kilometres. Although ambitious, it is achievable but requires close collaboration between policy makers, scientists and stakeholders.

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