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Producers in Spain illegally irrigate an area equivalent to 106,000 football fields a year

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF), one of the world's largest organizations dedicated to nature conservation, has investigated for a year the overexploitation and theft in the four most punished underground aquifers in Spain, managing to put figures on the environmental problem posed by illegal irrigation in Spain.

In its conclusions, WWF points out that nearly 220 hm³ of water are illegally extracted from these aquifers each year, a huge volume that would serve to irrigate more than 88,000 hectares, an area equivalent to 1.5 times the city of Madrid or 106,000 football fields.

The most alarming and dramatic case of water for irrigation theft occurs in the Ciudad Real aquifer that historically has fed the Tablas de Daimiel National Park. According to WWF estimates, the volume of water illegally extracted would fill 62,300 Olympic swimming pools each year and it is used to irrigate at least 51,465 hectares, i.e. the same area that 62,300 football fields occupy. As a result of this theft, the level of the aquifer has dropped to 20 meters underground and has plunged the park into permanent drought.

The second biggest looting occurs in the huge aquifer there is under the provinces of Avila, Valladolid, Salamanca, and Segovia. The Los Arenales underground deposit, under the Castilian-Leon plateau, has suffered a sharp decline in the last 15 years and its level has dropped below 25 meters from the surface. This has happened due to the proliferation of illegal wells or wells that have been exploited above the legal concession. The looted water has served to irrigate 23,975 hectares, i.e. some 29,000 soccer fields.

The third epicenter of illegal irrigation in Spain is the Campo de Cartagena. The WWF estimates that there are 8,460 hectares (about 10,200 soccer fields) located near the Mar Menor that are maintained by illegal wells.

The fourth-largest theft is in the one detected in the Andalusian park of Doñana, where WWF technicians calculate that there are at least 4,700 hectares, mainly of strawberries and berry, in the heart of this protected area that are irrigated illegally. As a consequence, the park has lost 80% of its marshes and 90% of its seasonal lagoons in the last century.

"These cases are not unique and isolated examples, but a sample of a much more widespread problem that involves the illegal use of groundwater in Spain. Water theft is a scandal for society and a crime that occurs because of impunity and the inaction of the administrations," stated Rafael Seiz, an expert on the WWF water program.



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