MADRID ( Associated Press) – Spanish farmers protested Wednesday in Madrid against a government order to protect the Tagus River, saying it threatens water resources needed to irrigate their crops.
Several hundred protesters, who arrived by bus from a southeastern region affected by the plan, demonstrated in front of Spain’s ecological transition ministry, demanding the resignation of Minister Teresa Ribera.
Lucas Jimenez, leader of the Central Union of Tajo-Segura Transfers, said, “It is a pleasure to see you here because it means that agriculture in the eastern region continues and wants to continue despite the politicians.” , told the crowd.
“Leave the issue of water in the hands of those who understand it,” he said.
Farmers are protesting the minister’s decision to set a new minimum water level for the Tagus River to preserve its ecological health. They fear this means less water for their farms.
The dispute comes after the European country suffered the hottest year on record and a prolonged drought that devastated crops such as olive trees, one of its main crops.
The Tagus is the longest river of the Iberian Peninsula. It runs 1,007 kilometers (626 mi) from eastern Spain to Portugal, where it empties into the Atlantic Ocean. But relatively close to its source is an artificial channel that diverts part of the water south to the Segura River. This southeastern coastal region relies on that water to irrigate fruits and vegetables exported to Europe and beyond.
Until now, the Tagus was the only river in Spain without official ecological protection, which used environmental criteria to establish the minimum flow needed to ensure its health, the ministry argued in defense of its decision. This became known after five court orders to set ecological minimums for the Tagus.
Minister Ribera asked this Tuesday not to become a “water war”, stressing that Spain must adapt to climate change.
“It is not enough to talk about an average amount of water, we must prepare for both longer cycles of extreme drought and years with extremely severe periods of flooding,” he said.
Joseph Wilson reported from Barcelona.