‘Environmental emergency’ in Spanish river

A river infested by the fast-growing, invasive water hyacinth. [Richard Portsmouth/Flickr]

Brussels authorities have been asked to help tackle a serious environmental problem in a river overrun with invasive plants in western Spain. EURACTIV Spain reports.

The president of the autonomous community of Extremadura, Guillermo Fernández Vara, has asked for a joint effort between his office, the national government and the European Union.

Fernández Vara is in Brussels to participate in the 114th plenary session of the Committee of the Regions (COR), the European Union’s assembly of regional and local representatives.

The president has met with Clara Eugenia MEP, the European Parliament’s vice-chair on the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, in order to discuss the problem of the Guadiana River, which is infested with an invasive species of aquatic plant.

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The water hyacinth, which is originally a native of the Amazon basin, first began to be problematic about nine years ago, Fernández Vara explained. The infestation has now spread along a stretch of river between the cities of Mérida and Badajoz. The biodiversity of the river is in great danger, as the plant is extremely fast-growing, covering the entire surface of the waterway in places, blocking light to the plants and animals that live in the river.

The water hyacinth is one of the fastest growing plants known to man, reproducing at a fast rate and its seeds remain active for well over two decades, making their removal extremely difficult. Provided with the right growing conditions, the plant can grow up to two metres a day.

It has caused great upheaval to the ecosystem and has resulted in the death of a number of native species. The area’s natural conditions are well-suited for the plant growth and it does not have to contend with any natural enemies. Susana Cortés, a spokesperson for the SOS Guadiana organisation, called for emergency aid to combat what is now an “environmental emergency.”

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Fernández Vara has warned that if left unchecked the plant could spread further downstream, where the river forms part of a natural border with Portugal and where it could interfere with the Alqueva dam, one of Western Europe’s largest. “It is true that the Guadiana river basin falls under the responsibility of Spain, but I am very concerned about the consequences for agriculture, tourism and the environment,” he added. When the plant covers the surface of a waterway or lake it creates stagnant conditions that are perfect for disease-carrying insects such as mosquitos.

The president justified his request for European aid by pointing out that the problem affects more than one country. “This is a serious matter, which has great importance and must be addressed by my office, the national government and the European Union,” Fernández Vara warned.

The economic resources needed to clean and remove the plant from the waterway will need to be investigated and established.

In addition to this issue, broader issues such as the energy union, Common Agricultural Policy simplification and territorial development financial instruments will be addressed at the COR plenary.

As a rule, the COR holds 6 plenary sessions each year attended by all of its democratically elected 350 members coming from local and regional authorities from all 28 EU Member States.

Within the European legislative process the European Commission is required to consult the COR on policy areas that directly affect local and regional authorities. The relevant COR policy commission will appoint one of its members to report and draft an opinion on the legislative proposal which is then put to the vote during one of the COR's plenary. If it receives a majority vote it is adopted and passed to the other EU institutions.


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