The Albufera of Valencia, paradise and hell

The paradise and hell of the environmentalists found in a lake situated 10 km to the south of the City of Arts and Sciences. The Albufera of Valencia is a place

The Albufera of Valencia, paradise and hell

The paradise and hell of the environmentalists found in a lake situated 10 km to the south of the City of Arts and Sciences. The Albufera of Valencia is a place of high environmental value and a jewel of a landscape, its biodiversity, only in birds, covers 280 species, and acts as a green lung and a shock of avenues torrential, among other ecosystem services. But, at the same time, it presents all the impacts that can degrade a natural area: pollution, water scarcity, uncontrolled hunting, the pressure of more than a million people living on its doorstep, and a cocktail of human interests conflicting.


The Albufera of Valencia. mònica torres the office of The Prosecutor investigating the “alarming” decline in the level of water in the Albufera de Valencia Lake of the Albufera of Valencia. MÒNICA TORRES The Albufera of Valencia last year received 17% less of the water needed for its conservation

On the horizon appear, in addition, new threats linked to climate change: still less water, sea level rise, saline intrusion and the risk that the lake happens to be a sink for greenhouse gas emitter due to the decline in quality of its waters. Javier Jimenez Romo, one of the biggest specialists in the natural park, he explains it along the shore, in one of the two reservations of the Ministry of Ecological Transition that he manages in the coastal wetland mediterranean.

Two data summarize the status of the Albufera. The first: the entry of water into the lake has been reduced by half since the seventies (in 2018 not reached 200 cubic hectometres). The increase of population, agriculture and industry has absorbed all of the contributions he received from the Turia river and a good part of the Júcar river. And just now the Confederation Hidrográfica del Júcar has started to take timid steps to fix it: this year, the wetland will receive four cubic hectometres from the Júcar river, and from 2021 onwards, eight.

The second alarming fact is that the number of waterfowl has been reduced by 30% from 2009, according to the census made by the ornithological NGO SEO/BirdLife. A decade ago it was estimated that there were 130,000 and in 2019, only 90.000, says Pablo Vera, technician of the organization. Despite this, in the natural park are hunted half-11.319 ducks a year, according to official data, which many observers, from environmental organizations to the Prosecutor's office of Environment of Valencia, considered unreliable when based on statements of the hunters. The president of the Federation of Hunting in valencia, Raul Esteban, it is not believed the data from SEO/BirdLife and says that the hunters are going to start to develop their own censuses.

The water of the Lagoon also presents a serious problem of quality. “There is not even 10 centimeters of transparency. But, even if the fund has heavy metals, the pollution here is not like the one that occurred in the Thames or the estuary of Bilbao by dumping toxic industrial. The green color of the Lagoon is due to that it is full of phytoplankton, which involves almost all the same bad index of environmental quality”, says the biologist Jiménez Romo. The process is called hipereutrofización and is due to the massive amounts of nutrients from the sixties has received the lake. Especially nitrogen and phosphorus, from the bad treatment of waste water, industrial waste and chemical fertilizers used in paddy fields, which occupy around 14,500 of the 21,000 hectares of the natural park. The excess manure generated an explosion of phytoplankton, he turned the water opaque and preventing the light of the sun reached the bottom, causing the death of aquatic plants and triggering the imbalance environmental. “There were fish and birds that disappeared, and was lost by the resistance that the plants exerted against the waves, starting a wear of the shores and the small islands of the Lagoon”, indicates Jiménez Romo.

The new systems of wastewater treatment are beginning to yield results. “We anticipated to reach the threshold of 90 micrograms per liter of chlorophyll, which is an indicator of the level of the food chain, the water, in 2021, and we are already below. Aquatic plants are re-emerging in certain areas and there has been some transparency,” says Teodoro Estrella, head of planning of the Hydrographical Confederation of the Júcar.

The ecologist Andreu Escrivà believes that the management of the space has improved in recent years. But it looks urgent to decide “what we want is the Albufera”. And puts two examples. By one side the main road CV-500, in part, a highway built by the franco regime, which crosses the natural park. The Generalitat wants to bring it into line with environmental standards, but has met with opposition from residents who prefer to be able to circulate fast. And, on the other, the macroampliación that the Port of Valencia is trying to run without an environmental impact statement up-to-date (that is available is 2007). The work will alter the current marina and to worsen, he warns, the dangerous setback that already suffer from the beaches of the natural park (which are part of the thin line of land separates the lake from the Mediterranean), which will increase the salinity risk posed by the likely increase in sea level by the climate change.

rice growers decide when to enter and exit the water in the lake

I. Z.

The Lagoon has the peculiarity that its water regime is in the hands of the rice farmers, which regulate in function of its needs of production and not of the park's ecosystem. Perform the control of the water level through the Board of Drain, a body that is governed by a law of the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera and decides when to open the floodgates that connect the lake with the sea. The great drain which carried out in July led to the Prosecutor's office to open proceedings for possible environmental crime. The farmers decided how much to fill in the fields in winter with the water that they receive from the Júcar river. Farmers plant the rice in spring, harvested in the autumn, and tend to leave the fields dry in the winter, keeping the water for the next season. But these months are crucial for the birds, which have the rice fields in your main pantry and, said SEO/BirdLife, accuse the lack of flooding in winter. To ensure the biodiversity in winter is, in addition, one of the reasons that the rice of the Albufera receive european funding of the CAP, up to 1,400 euros per year per hectare.

José Fortea, president of the Board of Drainage and the Community of Irrigators of Swedish denied that the lake suffers from water shortages and negate the excessive use of fertilizers. When asked about the compliance of the environmental requirements to receive the european aid, warns: “The water it is of the communities of irrigators. The Lagoon has no concession. And we have to charge european aid. The day that I do not receive them will be worse, because when we want we can throw it to the sea the water that comes to us”. The government, in charge of supervising the EU aid, nor has the planned measures in this regard.

Updated Date: 25 December 2019, 17:08



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