Drought and overexploitation of aquifers dry up the last permanent lagoon in Doñana

Santa Olalathe largest permanent lagoon in Doñana and the last to retain water in August, finally dried up. Today, it has been reduced to a small puddle in the center, where the waterfowl no longer come. This is the third time this has happened since the Doñana Biological Station (EBD/CSIC) began recording data on the natural space in the 1970s.

Doñana no longer has permanent ponds, and the area of ​​rice fields planted this year is a third of normal due to lack of water.

Eloy Revilla, Biological Station of Doñana (EBD/CSIC)

Doñana has historically been a wildlife refuge. It has an important system of ponds, of which only a few are kept with water throughout the summer. These offer refuge to the first wading birds that migrate south after breeding in northern Europe and are also the habitat of a good number of species of strictly aquatic flora and fauna.

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On the other hand, traditionally in summer the rice paddies also offer an important refuge, “but things have changed”, explains Eloy Revilladirector of the Biological Station, “Doñana no longer has permanent gapsand the area of ​​rice fields planted this year is one third of normal due to lack of water”, he adds.

An intense period of drought

O dry that Europe suffers, especially intense in the Iberian Peninsula, is wreaking havoc on the natural space. However, the most worrying thing is that it comes from afar. “It hasn’t rained normally for years. Doñana spent ten consecutive years with below average precipitation levelssays Revilla.

Wetlands and the species that depend on them, such as water birdsare especially affected and are forced to move in search of other areas that keep water available during the most difficult times of the dry season.

Doñana has had below-average rainfall levels for ten consecutive years

Eloy Revilla, Biological Station of Doñana (EBD/CSIC)

The Santa Olalla lagoon is the only one that has been maintained with permanent water from a series of large lagoons −called ‘peridunary’ − that form to the lee of the impressive string of dunes that separates the swamp from the Atlantic Ocean. Its origin lies in the discharge of water from the Doñana aquifer in this area, which generates an explosion of life.

These and other natural values ​​have made Doñana considered a National Park and Biosphere Reserve. However, the continued exploration of the aquifer by the intensive agriculture and the extractions for human consumption −also in such dry years as this− mean that not only the temporary lagoons have disappeared from Doñana, but also the permanent ones are threatened.

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The overexploitation of the aquifer, the main problem

Peridune lagoons are known to be mainly affected by water catchment of the city of Matalascañas, whose consumption increases exponentially in the summer due to the arrival of tens of thousands of tourists, which makes the population go from a few thousand inhabitants to a one hundred thousand people.

the effect of consumption in the summer It is so intense that piezometers – the wells that measure the depth of the aquifer’s water level – detect the differences between weekdays and weekends, when consumption is much higher. They even identify the difference between day and night, when people sleep and use less water. When more water is extracted from an aquifer than is recharged when it rains, it is overexploited; This is something that has been happening in Doñana for many years.

Aerial view of Santa Olalla lagoon on September 2.

Aerial view of Santa Olalla lagoon on September 2. / Doñana Biological Station (EBD/CSIC) – CSIC

It is known that the peridunary lagoons are mainly affected by the water intake of the city of Matalascañas, which in summer exponentially increases its consumption due to the arrival of tens of thousands of tourists.

“This is the third time the Santa Olalla lagoon to dry up completely since we have records. also happened in 1983 is at nine hundred ninety-five, in both cases also coinciding with periods of intense drought”, explains Revilla. “But we know, from the times that happened before, that drought is not the only cause of the disappearance of the permanent lakes of Doñana. O super exploration of the aquifer is also responsible”.

The Scientific, Technological and Singular Infrastructure – Doñana Biological Reserve, dependent on the Biological Station, installed a tracking camera in Santa Olalla to see its evolution in the coming days. On 31 August it was reduced to a small pool of water and mud. Surprisingly, on the 1st of September -after many people had already returned to their homes- some springs and springs from which the lagoon is nourished began to sprout again.

Given the serious situation of the lagoon, the director of the EBD/CSIC calls for measures to be accelerated to eliminate underground water intakes in Matalascañas and for restrictions to be imposed on water consumption in the urbanization.

Faced with this serious situation in which the lagoon finds itself, the director of the EBD/CSIC asks that the measurements eliminate the underground catchment basins of Matalascañas, and which, in the meantime, restrictions consumption of water in urbanization, at least in the years when the ponds are in such situations extreme like this. “It cannot be that while the grass continues to be watered in Matalascañas, the lagoons of Doñana dries completely”, he concludes.

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