Sundown or Showdown in the Tablas?

Las Tablas Pano by Mike at Sea
Las Tablas, a photo by Mike at Sea on Flickr.
Recently it has emerged that the waters entering the National Park of the Tablas of Daimiel are contaminated from untreated urban waste water causing widespread destruction of the aquatic plants within the park. Both the WWF and CSIC (the Higher Council for Scientific Research) have lodged complaints with the authorities regarding this issue and it has been taken as high as the European Commision.

Seemingly it´s not the first time this has happened, but also previously after periods of heavy rains after a drought. It happened in 1990, 1997 and 2004. This latest occurence is due of course to the fact that the Tablas up until 2 years ago were in a severely wretched condition due to drought and over use of agricultural irrigation causing severe depletion of Aquifer 23 which lies below the park and much of La Mancha. Spain got reported to the EC for this when an underground fire started in the park.

Now, despite the fact that all waste water is supposed to be treated since 2005, sewage is finding its way into the waters of the park killing off up to 50% of charophyte meadows which should be experiencing huge vegetative growth due to the abundance of water.

Where´s all this pollution coming from? According to reports it´s from Daimiel, Villarubia de los Ojos and other towns surrounding the park. The pollutants are entering the Gigüela and Guadiana rivers from these towns and in some cases untreated waste water has just been dumped into these rivers. How in this day and age can this happen? Why is it happening?

Well if anyone just visits the Laguna de Navaseca near Daimiel, which has a waste water treatment plant, it´s not hard to see, or should I say smell, that something is not quite right. It stinks out there, it´s putrid and the scum on top is so thick you could nearly walk on it. Mind you, having said that, there is an amazing quantity of birdlife out there, but surely there could be more if it was clean? Why can´t these plants do their job? Are they insufficient for the quantity of waste? I don´t ever remember terrible smells coming from sewage treatment plants in Ireland, nor big cesspools outside the plant. I remember visiting one once and was amazed at the lack of any odours. And that was before Ireland was having its economic boom when money was tight.

So now what? Fine Spain for neglect? Well, OK, they have been negligent. This whole region has been mismanaged with lack of proper treatment plants. They have allowed huge amounts of irrigation at all hours of the day, including the hottest times in the summer, when most of the water will evaporate. They have not made enough effort to stop people drilling illegal wells. The most laughable is when somebody does drill one illegally and the pressure blows out the well and they say they found a geiser! I know we are in a volcanic zone here, but every time I see that in the paper or on television I laugh at their naïvete.

So where to now? Well I suppose a fine will be issued, some new laws brought into force, by oh who knows, 2015 perhaps? But until then we´ll all have to watch the Tablas suffer huge loss of aquatic plant life, probable cases of botulism in the fauna, and politicians covering their asses, or sticking their heads in the ground. Maybe we should ask them to stick their heads in the waters…either which way, if there´s not a showdown following which something is done quickly to deal with the issues then could it be sundown for the Tablas?

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