Desalination water seems to be imposed as a resource for use in agriculture, but how do you think the problem of its high economic cost can be solved?
How is that resolved? I am a farmer. I need to be served the water that corresponds to me. I will spend as little as possible because water is expensive. I spend 120,000 euros on water a year and I am the first person interested in reducing consumption. If the CHS or the minister tell me that the price is going to be 17 cents per cubic meter, I don’t care exactly where it comes from. That is what 99.99% of irrigators think.
And how can that be done?
Farmers just want to be sure that each month they will have their endowment, but at the price we are paying for the transfer water. What I cannot assume is that if I pay 17 cents per cubic meter, which goes up to 30, depending on the fixed costs of each community, they will charge me at 80 cents, because I cannot pay it. We are going to losses. A citrus producer in Seville barely has to pay for water, maybe 100 euros of canon per hectare per year. If I have to pay 3,000 or 4,000 euros per hectare, I have to leave the activity. If assuming this change is in the general interest because the ecological flow has to be increased, it must be assumed by the State. You cannot take away a right that you granted me 42 years ago on the basis of which I have set up my production structure, my family, my business and saying that “now it’s going to cost you 300% more.” This is not supported by any economic activity. In Murcia, many new desalination plants are operating, such as Valdelentisco, Águilas or San Pedro del Pinatar. But it is the farmers who have asked for them and can assume this increase in the price of water due to their type of intensive activity. But if a desalination plant like the one in Torrevieja comes to replace the transfer contribution, we cannot assume the difference and that is the real fight. There is no other solution than the State assuming those 25 or 30 million euros a year of extra cost of water. That is, everyone.
Then Asaja insists on the quality problem …
Yes, it is quality water but it must be remineralized. Not only for agriculture, to dilute boron, but also for urban supply. It should always end up mixing with water from the transfer or basin. And you also have to think about how they want to connect the plant with Murcia, raising it to the summit of the Sierra de Pujálvarez and then moving it 65 kilometers to the Segur weir in Ojós (Murcia). With a project that technically can be done but that is environmentally crazy and from the point of view of economic cost.
After the demonstrations against the new exploitation rules, what else can be done to defend the arrival of water?
Above all, we have to give visibility to the problem that can be caused. Society is not aware of what irrigated agriculture means for the province, for the Community and for the country as well. In these last 18 months, with the covid crisis, it is the only activity that has maintained its work rhythm, that has grown in employment and that has endured such a critical situation by offering food guarantees and also redistributing wealth. It is sometimes forgotten that agricultural activity is the one that redistributes wealth the most because it employs a lot of labor.
Do you trust that the allegations to the basin plan serve any purpose?
Let’s plead, of course, although I don’t know where it’s going to get to that.
And what is left to do then?
We must put pressure on politicians and make them see that this is not possible. We believe that politicians know our situation and sometimes they have no idea. For example, President Ximo Puig did not know the problem that they are going to leave Alicante without desalinated water, in the concession process opened by the CHS for 25 years in which most of the water is transferred to Campo de Cartagena. When we went to meet him he had no idea. The CHS is in Murcia and they have a Murcian mentality.
And what do you mean by that term of Murcian mentality?
Everything for them (smiles). They want to leave towns like San Miguel de Salinas, Los Montesinos or Pilar de la Horadada, which will already suffer the cut-off of the transfer, in more than eleven thousand hectares, without water from the desalination plant as well. Precisely to the municipalities that have the closest plant and the direct intake, and that are the ones that bear the environmental impact. Their argument is that they already have a water treatment concession… but like the rest of the communities in Murcia, which also have 80 hectometres of desalination! And they don’t contemplate that … because they want it all. I can kick because I am a farmer, but if the president of the Generalitat picks up the phone, the president of the nation will have to answer him.
What position does Asaja Castilla-La Mancha have on the forecasts of the Tagus basin plan?
There is talk of the problem of depopulation but economic activity in the countryside is declining. Asaja Castilla-La Mancha is going to publicly denounce that it is not a plan that takes into account agricultural activity and does not allocate not one cubic meter, not one more drop of water, to agriculture in the Tagus basin itself. The plans are more in line with less agricultural activity. They do not foresee a generational change or the revitalization of the towns. Asaja says that with well managed water there is for all uses, but it cannot be claimed that only ecological flows will increase, which is the obsession of the current minister. The colleagues of Asaja Castilla-La Mancha say that the ecological transition is undermining the demographic challenge because the great problem of emptied Spain, which we do not see in Alicante, is that the revitalization of the rural world is not contemplated, and it is necessary to invest in water, in media, in fiber optics, …
Conservation groups assure that the agricultural sector, and also the real estate sector, are installed in a loop in which the supply of water will never be enough to meet the demand …
We live in the third economic area of the country behind Madrid and Barcelona. And only here, by far, do we have this need for water. Except for one year, the expected water has never arrived, 600 hectometres a year. Once in 42 years. We do not demand more water, we ask that the provisions of the law be fulfilled, as far as possible. If the transfer does not give the expected 600 hectometres per year, we must look for alternatives, what you cannot do is capriciously reduce the volume of water, because what the Government now intends is a reduction due to the increase in the ecological flow of the Tagus when the studies show that it is not necessary. The Tagus is pouring in the order of 5,000 hectometres more than what the agreement between Spain and Portugal says, an amount of 2,500 hectometres, and we are pulling in the order of 5,000. Our discussion in Alicante and Murcia is for 100 hectometres, but instead of 5,000, they are going to throw 5,100 to Portugal. More than agreed. The rivers have to be alive, that is very clear, because that is our future and our viability. You do not have to take advantage of the rivers 100%. But between 2,500 hectometres going to Portugal and 7,000 hectometres passing, I think there is room for play so that a hundred more hectometres can reach these lands.
“Rising water prices will wipe out small farmers”
Asaja considers that the Government should rethink its infrastructure policy after the failure of the Júcar-Vinalopó transfer
The expansion of the desalination plant, photovoltaic energy or the connection between infrastructures is what has been proposed as a solution to cutting back on the transfer of water between now and 2027.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.