SPAIN: One of Europe’s largest and most significant wetlands, Spain’s Doñana National Park’s largest permanent lake, has shrunk to a small puddle as years of drought and overuse have taken their toll on the aquifer that supplies the region and supports millions of migratory birds.
The Santa Olalla Lake, which is located within a UNESCO world heritage site, has dried up three times in the past 50 years, according to specialists from Spain’s National Research Council (CSIC).
The CSIC declared that “the Santa Olalla Lake, the largest permanent lake in Doñana and the final one that still had water in August, has dried up.” There are no longer any aquatic birds in the centre, which has recently been reduced to a little puddle.
Due to a changing climate, farming, mining pollution, and marsh drainage, Doñana water supplies, which cover over 130,000 hectares (320,000 acres) of marshes, woodlands, and dunes in the Andalucian provinces of Huelva, Seville, and Cádiz, have significantly decreased over the past 30 years.
Environmental organisations have long fought to conserve the area, which is also home to a significant population of critically endangered Iberian lynxes, claiming that illegal wells dug to supply the area’s numerous soft fruit farms are pressuring the aquifer.
Right-wing regional parliament members disregarded their warnings, voting earlier this year to “regularise” 1,461 hectares of land close to the national park, granting farmers who had dug unauthorised wells and erected unauthorised plantations on the property legitimacy for their activities.
The CSIC stated that in addition to the Doñana ephemeral lakes disappearing, its permanent lakes were also in danger due to the ongoing exploitation of the aquifer for intensive agriculture and human consumption.
The council claimed that while Doñana lakes, marshes, and rice fields had historically been a haven for wildlife, the area had altered due to 10 years of below-average rainfall, forcing many birds to seek new wetlands.
Eloy Revilla, the CSIC’s Doñana biological station manager, declared that “things have changed.” The area of rice fields sown this year is just a third of what it would ordinarily be due to the lack of water, and Doñana no longer has any permanent lakes.
Although the Santa Olalla Lake totally dried up twice during severe drought years—in 1983 and 1995—Revilla claimed that “the overexploitation of the Doñana aquifer is also to blame.”
According to the CSIC, water resources are severely strained by the big yearly migration of summer tourists to the nearby tourist destination of Matalascaas. The lake was “dry, parched and cracked; reduced to a little puddle of water and mud” on August 31, according to the council’s camera.
However, the biggest permanent lake in the Doñana may have been replenished the following day after many tourists had returned home. According to Revilla, restrictions on water use in Matalascaas must be put in place in drought years like the current one.
He remarked that the lakes of Doñana are entirely drying up, so you can’t keep watering the grass in Matalascaas. UNESCO, which designated the national park as a world-historic site in 1994, warned in 2013 that efforts to stop illicit water extraction for strawberry farms risked losing the area’s prized designation.
By failing to curb “significant alterations” to its protected ecosystems and illegal water extraction in Doñana, Spain violated its obligations, the European Court of Justice decided last year.
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