Justice forces for the first time to start illegal irrigation next to Mar Menor | Climate and Environment

View of a growing area that borders the Mar Menor.
View of a growing area that borders the Mar Menor.Pedro Martinez

For the first time, the courts have forced a company in Campo de Cartagena to cease the crops that it maintained with illegal irrigation in the protection strip closest to the Mar Menor. The Superior Court of Justice of Murcia (TSJ) has issued this Wednesday an order forcing the company Agrícola Los Nietos SL to uproot 4.99 hectares in which citrus fruits were cultivated until now. The lands are in the so-called zone 1, the one with maximum protection according to the Mar Menor recovery law. In addition, in October 2019 the Segura Hydrographic Confederation (CHS) opened a file with the company when it detected that it was using irrigation water for which it did not have authorization. These lands are part of the 9,500 hectares that the basin organization considers illegal irrigation systems that must be dismantled and that, according to regional law, must return to their previous state, whether they are rainfed crops or uncultivated areas.

The Ministry of Water, Agriculture and the Environment has processed 169 files to order the restitution of the land, of which 50 have already been resolved and communicated to their owners so that they cease their crops. In total, they encompass 934 hectares, of which 160 have already been restored by their owners (10 in total), according to a spokesperson for that department to EL PAÍS. However, 11 other affected companies have gone to court to try to prevent their crops from being uprooted. The one of this Wednesday is the first judicial resolution that gives the reason to the Administration and forces the companies to end the exploitations and, therefore, with the spills that could reach the Mar Menor.

According to the Supreme Court ruling, to which EL PAÍS has had access, the company now has a period of two months to draft the restitution project, and six months to execute it. The high court understands that the restitution of this illegal irrigation is duly justified for “reasons of environmental protection” and considers that compliance with the laws on water matters and the need to protect the Mar Menor prevail over the interest of the company to maintain an exploitation that, moreover, is not authorized.

The company asked to suspend the order, claiming that removing the citrus from the farm would entail “irreparable damage.” The court does not share this assessment, because it believes that “a land that cannot be irrigated for two years – a situation that, in principle, will continue and may be definitive – should not be at its optimum production.” It goes on to point out that the claim made by the company that its cultivation does not pollute and helps to retain runoff in episodes of torrential rains is “generic” and “without support in any data.” In addition to restoring the land, the company must pay the costs of the process and can still file an appeal for reversal against this judgment.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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