The Tagus River near Toledo, Spain, Source: Depositphotos

Spain’s desertification is pitting regions against each other

Spain’s desertification is pitting regions against each other

The crux of the conflict is the decision of the national government to limit the water pipeline flow to Levante farmers

The disastrous domino effect of climate change and bad planning in the past is already playing out in Spain, where a second consecutive year of drought has forced the authorities to turn off the tap on the Tagus-Segura Water Transfer. This decision, however, has been met by contrarian reactions from residents living in Castilla-La Mancha and Murcia region, leading to what some media have called “water wars”.

The water infrastructure in question was built in the 1970s and represents the biggest hydro-engineering project in the country to date. The aim was to redirect some of the Tagus River water to irrigate the arid landscape of the Murcia region some 300 kilometres away via pipes, canals and aqueducts.

The mission was a success as it managed to boost fruit and vegetable farming in Murcia and Alicante, so much so that they are now considered the “Garden of Europe”. Local farmers supply nearly half of Spain’s plant food exports. But then came rising temperatures and falling water reservoir levels and now there’s a dilemma: save the Tagus or save Murcian farming and economy?  

Will salads disappear from European tables?

The Tagus River is the biggest river on the Iberian Peninsula. It crosses through the heart of Spain and into Portugal before flowing into the Atlantic Ocean. However, its water levels have dropped dangerously low. Since the Transfer project was inaugurated in 1979, the average temperature in Spain has risen by 1.3 degrees Celsius and protracted heatwaves have become more common in the 21st century.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s government says it had no choice but to cut the flow of water to keep in line with rulings from Spain’s Supreme Court and EU environmental rules.

Minister for Ecological Transition Teresa Ribera has said that the decision was based on "the best scientific knowledge possible", as quoted by Euronews. She has promised more money to develop other sources of water like desalination - something farmers from the region say is too expensive to be viable.

The Murcian farmers are threatening a massive loss of jobs and arable land if the decision is not reversed. Residents and local politicians of Castilla-La Mancha, the region through which a large stretch of the Tagus flows, are supportive of Madrid claiming that the bleeding of the river has damaged their own environment and economy.

Green activists posit that the overall approach to turning Spain into an agricultural garden is unsustainable in the long term given the scarcity of water resources on the peninsula.

More than 80 per cent of freshwater in Spain is used by agriculture... it's just not tenable,” Greenpeace’s local branch declared.



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