Drying out of Doñana wetlands calls for urgent measures by the EU
Posted on 09 September 2022
WWF experts visiting Doñana, one of the most important wetlands in Europe and a World Heritage Site, have raised the alarm bell over the dire state of this ecosystem.Despite several prior warnings and sentences by the EU, Doñana is experiencing a disastrous year. All the lagoons connected with the aquifer in the National Park have now officially dried up and the main reason is not only the current drought but the relentless extraction of water for domestic supply, irrigation of gardens and filling of swimming pools in the area, as well as the overexploitation of the aquifer by intensive and industrial agriculture - including illegal farms with over 1,000 wells.
The area is a key spot for biodiversity and home to over 500,000 migratory birds that use these wetlands on their journey between Northern Europe and Africa. This year they will not find a place to rest in Doñana.
For the first time, the health of the aquifer under the lagoons is showing a significant negative trend and its status is classified as "alert".
WWF experts have visited the Doñana Biological Reserve, and have been able to verify first-hand that it has virtually disappeared. The ‘permanent’ lagoon has been reduced to a small puddle, which no longer attracts birds and is unlikely to harbor any fish or amphibians.
Doñana drying out has already impacted biodiversity. During this winter, the number of aquatic birds fell to 87,500 - less than 1/5th of last year’s 470,000. There have also been 20% fewer amphibians recorded.
Andreas Baumüller, Head of Natural Resources at WWF European Policy Office: “Doñana is at the most critical moment in its history. Overexploitation by human activities is leading it close to its death, and those threats are aggravated by climate change. We request the European Commission’s urgent support to ensure that EU laws and the rulings of the Court of Justice of the EU are complied with.”
In June 2021 the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU),had ruled that the ongoing "excessive extraction of groundwater" in the Doñana Natural Area violated the Habitats Directive and the Water Framework Directive. On 15 July 2022, the European Commission called on Spain to urgently implement the CJEU ruling on the deterioration of Doñana and warned of possible penalties.
We therefore ask the European Commission to refer the case back to the CJEU, and demand the Spanish administrations responsible for the protection of Doñana to urgently comply with the EU legislation. The governments need to prosecute the unsustainable and illegal use of land and water to guarantee Doñana’s conservation. Spanish authorities must deliver integrated river basin management plans that ensure the conservation of Doñana, and we ask the EU to closely oversee the actual implementation of those plans.
WWF is also calling on national, regional and local governments to immediately take the necessary measures to protect Doñana and safeguard the services it provides to people and nature - before they disappear for good. For example, the authorities must order the immediate closure of the current wells that supply the Matalascañas area and their replacement by surface water in order to save the lagoons from extinction. In addition, local restrictions must be imposed on water usage in tourist resorts, including filling swimming pools and irrigating lawns as well as continuing the closing of illegal farms and wells.
The government must also begin restoration measures for the lagoons as well as implement a comprehensive recovery plan for Doñana - Plan Doñana 2030 - to save its marshes, lagoons and other ecosystems - and sustain the communities and nature that rely on them.