The Spanish Supreme Court rules in favor of NGOs to protect Spanish rivers and wetlands
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The Spanish Supreme Court rules in favor of NGOs to protect Spanish rivers and wetlands

October, 2018.

Spanish rivers and wetlands celebrate the recent favorable sentence by the Supreme Court in relation to the appeal promoted by AEMS Rios con Vida (partner of AMBER) and SEO/BirdLife with the support of WWF Spain. The appeal fought a modification [i] in the regulation [ii] promoted by the Spanish Government which threatened the status of rivers and wetlands by allowing widespread reductions in the application of environmental flows (1)

This two year long fight started in 2016 with the regulatory reform by the government. This modification of the legal text allowed a reduction in the environmental flow compliance, predefined by the Hydrological Plans. By doing this, rivers and wetlands were subject to be affected, even protected ones such as those included in Natura 2000, Ramsar wetlands as well as natural fluvial reserves. The legal reform entailed a first degree environmental regression for the aquatic ecosystems of the Spanish territory.

The annulment of the modification was a serious and important reversal in terms of protecting rivers and wetlands. According to experts, the modification could have led to significant environmental impacts over the fluvial ecosystem conservation and related habitats and ecosystems connected. The Council of State indicated that the extent of the exclusions of the government reform could deeply alter the regime of environmental flow, turning them into unrecognizable regimes.

This ruling is final and not subject to appeal. The Court decision is particularly significant as the scope extends to all rivers and wetlands in the country and all basin districts. This guarantees that the environmental flows won’t be weakened. It entails a very positive step towards the protection of our rivers and wetlands and will help improve the effective compliance of the environmental flow regime. This will improve water quality and conservation of associated ecosystems and species. Likewise, the ruling agrees with the national and European demands, especially with the environmental objectives established by the Water Framework Directive.

For this reason, the organizations celebrate the court decision yet warn about the need for even further improvement. The environmental organizations want to remind policy makers the importance of the different types of flow, according to the season. Nevertheless, the hydrological plans still do not fulfill the legal requirement on this matter, according to the last monitoring report of the hydrological plans (2017) [iii]. A sad situation that doubtless harms the hydromorphological quality of rivers, hinders the achievement of the environmental objectives and threatens fish populations and aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems linked to rivers and wetlands.

#ProtectWater campaign

Along with a hundred environmental organizations across Europe, SEO/BirdLife, Ríos con Vida and WWF Spain join the #ProtegeTuAgua (#ProtectWater) campaign to demand the continuity of the Water Framework Directive and its policies improved.

More information and legal reports (Spanish):

1. An environmental flow is a flow regime required to sustain freshwater and estuarine ecosystems.

[i] Real Decreto 638/2016, de 9 de diciembre, por el que se modifica el Reglamento del Dominio Público Hidráulico aprobado por el Real Decreto 849/1986, de 11 de abril, el Reglamento de Planificación Hidrológica, aprobado por el Real Decreto 907/2007, de 6 de julio, y otros reglamentos en materia de gestión de riesgos de inundación, caudales ecológicos, reservas hidrológicas y vertidos de aguas residuales.

[ii] Real Decreto 907/2007, de 6 de julio, por el que se aprueba el Reglamento de la Planificación Hidrológica.

[iii] Informe de seguimiento de los planes hidrológicos de cuenca y de los recursos hídricos en España. Año 2017. Ministerio para la Transición Ecológica.

*Link to the news in AEMS website:

Author: AEMS Rios con Vida