Who cares about the 18,321 hectares of traditional irrigation that stretch for forty kilometers between Puertas de Murcia in Orihuela and Guardamar? To the thousands of small and medium farmers in the Vega Baja, which still today (and despite its scarce generational change) keep alive the cultivation of the best citrus fruits and vegetables in Europe through the secular system by which the water of the Segura river reaches them.
Taking the traditional garden out of the water war debate is the most comfortable thing to do. Nine weirs and hundreds of kilometers of ditches, suckers, flumes, runners, brazales, azarbetas and azarbes make it sustainable. It cannot increase its cultivated area illegally, nor compete with the irrigation production of the transfer, but it survives with what comes from the river and the reclaimed purified water concessions. Carlos Barrera, judge of the Alfeitamí Azud Water Court (Almoradí) explains that it would be “outrageous” and “nonsensical” not to defend the continuity of the Tajo-Segura transfer, which is also what gives water to the mouths of 27 municipalities in the region. But sentence: «Traditional irrigators don’t even suck our thumb, nor are we going to clap our ears for anything ». The silence of the water courts and irrigation communities of the Vega Baja that are supplied by the Segura in the face of the mobilizations in defense of the transfer is more than evident. Why? They cannot fail to link the construction of the transfer and its implementation 40 years ago, with the beginning of a spiral of environmental problems and water scarcity that have endangered their way of life.
We are in solidarity with the irrigators of the transfer, but we do not suck our thumb
One of the paradoxical images that occur in the garden is the passage of one of the most vital infrastructures of the transfer, the Hurchillo siphon, «the tubes» that transport the water to La Pedrera, through the traditional irrigation terraces. These crops do not receive a drop of water from the Tagus. Although, yes, these infrastructures serve to reduce the salinity of the water that the river carries by providing “good water” from the Ojós Azud, recalls Pedro Mompeán, judge of the Orihuela Water Court who, without wanting to abound in the controversy of the transfer, recalls the problem of the irrigators of La Vega in the face of the impressive display carried out by the Central Union of Irrigators of the Tajo Segura Aqueduct (SCRATS). We are not united. 40 years ago we were deceived with the transfer – says the one who is a representative of the Segura water management entity – and the river has not returned to what it used to be. Politicians, one and the other, have always used it to their liking. He says it knowing that without the transfer, La Vega would not be what it is today.a, with 50,000 hectares of crops at the forefront of intensive production. Barrera, for his part, emphasizes that the State offered a transfer of the transfer to traditional irrigation, such as the one that allows the Cartagena field to be now one of the most productive orchards in Europe. Why didn’t they accept it? We had enough water. Sometimes there was a drought, but we knew that what came through the river was what there was, and sometimes there was plenty. We had no idea what was going to happen, when it began to drift everywhere from Ojós and we were short of water ».
It would be necessary to give a return to what is done with the river in the Ojós weir
“SCRATS works very well, it has smart people and strong companies,” Barrera acknowledges, “but you cannot dress a saint to undress another», He assures about the scarcity of flows and the high salinity that supports the traditional orchard at the expense – he emphasizes – of the enormous pressure of the SCRATS, which even uses the water of the basin to solve its own deficit at the blow of decrees of drought.
«It would be necessary to give more than one return, to what happens in the Ojós weir». The mayor (and water judge of a municipality with 7,000 tahullas de huerta) of Guardamar del Segura says it, José Luis Sáez, highlighting in turn that the transfer has been and is essential for urban consumption. Upstream from Murcia, the Ojós weir is the point at which the large-flow Segura (used here also as a collector of the water from the transfer for irrigation and supply) is expressed, depending on the concession that corresponds to the transfer or the Segura, to divert it to other areas such as Lorca, which could never have developed intensive irrigation. That is the “magic” of the transfer, and its true need. Traditional irrigation seems to matter to few.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.