Tours of the wetlands of Tablas de Daimiel national park in central Spain still depart from a jetty — but visitors must now make the excursion on foot not by boat.
A lack of rain and drainage for agriculture have severely reduced the amount of water in recent years in what is one of Spain’s most precious ecosystems, making boat tours impossible.
The wetlands are dying, said 23-year-old Hugo Abad Frías, who is running for office in Sunday’s general election in the province of Ciudad Real (where the park is located) as part of far-left coalition Sumar.
He complained there is a lack of proposals to end Spain’s water shortage — and fears the situation will only get worse if far-right party Vox comes to power.
Most polls suggest the conservative Popular Party (PP) will win the most seats but will need Vox to govern and oust Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez from office.
Vox has vowed to end “climate fanaticism” and pull Spain out of the Paris climate accord, an international agreement to combat climate change, if it comes to power nationally.
The party, which actively courts rural voters, has also backed extending irrigation for farming.
“They want to lead us to a dead end by promising more water when there is no more,” Abad Frías told AFP.
Water management has become a central issue on Spain, which is grappling with a severe drought and successive heatwaves that have put the country at the forefront of the climate crisis in Europe.
A row erupted earlier this year over water management in the Doñana national park in southern Spain, also threatened by intensive agriculture.
This is a first in Spain where environmental issues have long been absent from the political debate, and which does not have a major green party, said political scientist Cristina Monge of the University of Zaragoza.
Spain’s political parties are divided in two blocs on green issues, she added.
The Socialists and Sumar see tackling climate change now as a priority, while the PP and Vox back the construction of new hydraulic infrastructure without reflecting on water use and climate change, Monge said.
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Located within a semi-arid area of central Spain, the Tablas de Daimiel wetlands have long been a refuge of hundreds of bird species.
But only six percent of the surface area of the wetlands currently have water, said Abad Frías.
And that is due to transfers from the Tagus river some 80 kilometres (50 miles) away, and pumping groundwater, he added.
Bridges cross over cracked soil with tall grass instead of water, and few birds can be seen.
In a manifesto published earlier this year, 500 experts denounced the “excessive pumping of water from the aquifer for irrigated agriculture”.
‘What will they eat?’
Eva Saldaña, the executive director of the Spanish branch of Greenpeace, said the wetlands had been “destroyed” by intensive farming aimed at exportation, and “theft of groundwater though illegal wells”.
But Isidro Díaz del Campo, a 47-year-old local farmer, said “there are many more people who comply (with the law) than who don’t”.
He said he installed a drip irrigation system for his olive trees and pistachios which is designed to save water by minimising evaporation.
Díaz del Campo admitted, however, that like other farmers he has increased the amount of land his father cultivated and pumped more water for irrigation.
He laughed at the left’s idea for a moratorium on intensive irrigation or calls for illegal groundwater wells to be closed.
The solution instead should be to bring water from northern Spain or Europe to more parched areas, said Diaz del Campo.
“I don’t know what will they eat at Sumar… you have to think of the environment but also of the survival of farmers,” he added.