Massive anti-water transfer protest in Spain

250,000 citizens march in Zaragoza against government plans to pipe water south

The city of Zaragoza, Aragon, northern Spain, was brought to a standstill yesterday as an estimated quarter of a million people marched against government plans to pipe large quantities of water to drier river basins in the country's south. It was the biggest environmental demonstration in Spanish history.

When the environment minister unveiled the government's national hydrological plan last month (ENDS Daily 6 September) it sparked immediate controversy because of its massive budget and proposal to transfer water from the northern Ebro river to the intensively irrigated south-east. However the scale of the public response in Aragon, one of the areas potentially most negatively affected by the plan, far exceeded the expectations of the regional parties, trades unions and employers' organisations that organised the demonstration.

Spanish environment minister, Jaume Matas, described himself as "disconcerted" by the size of the protest. President of the Aragon regional government Marcelino Iglesias, who is due to meet Mr Matas on Wednesday, announced his intention to call for the hydrological plan to be immediately scrapped.

The arguments of scientists and environmentalists who reject the plan's premise to "transfer water from river basins with a surplus to those with a deficit" recently received support from an unexpected source. Last Wednesday, the environment ministry published figures showing expected water levels in Spanish rivers to drop 20% by 2060 effectively wiping out the north's calculated surplus.

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