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Spain may be fined millions for long delays in providing adequate sewage treatment

Polluted waters in the Guadalhorce river, next to Estación de Cártama.
Polluted waters in the Guadalhorce river, next to Estación de Cártama. / Paula Hérvele
  • Brussels is asking for 46.5 million euros for sewage problems in 17 towns, including Nerja, Estepona, Marbella, Coín and Alhaurín el Grande

Delays in guaranteeing adequate sewage treatment could end up costing the authorities a great deal, not only because of the effects on the environment and the repercussion in the tourist industry of the Costa del Sol, but also in financial terms.

Five years after the European Justice Tribunal condemned Spain because in 2001 there were 37 towns with more than 15,000 inhabitants which were not treating sewage properly, the European Commission has become tired of waiting and has decided to take Spain to court again because in 17 of these cases the problem has still not been resolved.

The EC will now ask the Tribunal to put the sentence into effect and fine Spain at least 46.5 million euros, plus a further fine of 171,217 euros a day if the works have still not been carried out by the time the judges issue their second resolution.

The list of black spots includes Marbella (San Pedro), Estepona, Nerja, Alhaurín el Grande and Coín. Benalmádena and Torrox used to be on the list but sewage plants were installed there by the Junta de Andalucía in 2007 and 2011 respectively.

The worst case is Nerja, which is the only municipality on the coast of Malaga province which releases its sewage into the sea with no previous filtering whatsoever. Work on a treatment plant began in January 2014 but has been subject to delays and is now expected to be completed in mid-2017.

According to Brussels, Spain has delayed too long in resolving this problem, because under EU rules towns with more than 15,000 inhabitants are supposed to have been treating their sewage correctly since 1 January 2001. The problem is not exclusive to Malaga province, and action is also likely to be taken against Spain because 912 villages with more than 2,000 inhabitants have failed to comply with the directive to install adequate sewage treatment facilities before January this year.