The province still has a long way to go in terms of adequate sewage treatment, and the European Court of Justice has just made this very clear by fining Spain 12 million euros for failing to comply with EU regulations. The decision included Coín, Alhaurín el Grande, Estepona and Nerja as four of the 17 municipalities which have been monitored since 2011 and have not fulfilled their obligations. There will be an additional fine of 11 million euros every six months if the situation does not improve.
This case dates back to 2010, when the European Commission found that several Spanish towns with more than 15,000 inhabitants had done nothing towards building collection systems or waste treatment facilities, despite EU regulations which were approved in the early 1990s. The Commission therefore took Spain to court, and the ECJ found in its favour in April 2011.
However, in 2017 the Court said that as the Spanish government had still not fulfilled its obligations, it was imposing a fine of 171,217 euros for every day of delay, plus 19,303 euros for every day that passed between the date of the court decision in 2011 and its demands being completely fulfilled.
On Wednesday, the court found that Spain has failed to comply fully, because in nine of the 17 municipalities the work required to bring them in line with EU regulations had not been done. In addition to these four in Malaga province, it also applies to Matalascañas, Isla Cristina, Tarifa, Barbate, east Gijón, Santiago de Compostela, Aguiño-Carreira-Ribeira, Vigo, Benicaró, Peñíscola, Teulada-Moreira, north-east Valle Guerra and Valle de Güímar, the last two being in the Canary Islands.
According to the law, local councils are obliged to provide adequate sewage treatment facilities, but the financial circumstances of small town halls has meant that the matter has normally become the responsibility of the relevant regional governments (in most cases) or the government if the treatment plant is considered a matter of General Interest to the State. In the case of Andalucía, since 2011 every household has been paying an Improvement Charge, a tax included in the water bills to pay for the works to improve sewage treatment.
Straight into the Guadalhorce
In Coín and Alhaurín el Grande, which both have more than 20,000 inhabitants, the sewage goes straight into the Guadalhorce river with no type of previous treatment (the same as the other places in the area apart from Alhaurín de la Torre). This is about to change in Coín, because the Bajo Guadalhorce plant will come into operation at the end of this year, according to sources at the Junta de Andalucía, which is building it.
In Alhaurín el Grande it will take longer, because it depends on the future Guadalhorce Norte plant, and the plans for that are only now being drawn up. The mayor of Alhaurín el Grande, Toñi Ledesma, says the Junta de Andalucía has already fined these municipalities for their lack of infrastructure: "They were the ones who said they would build the treatment plants, and now they are fining us even though we pay for authorisation to dispose of our sewage into the river," she explained this week.
Although Estepona was included in the initial court case, it has now complied with its legal obligations. A year ago its sewage plant tripled its capacity after a reform which cost the State 31 million euros and the Junta four million, to enable it to treat the sewage of more than 400,000 inhabitants.
Finally, the government also started work on the Nerja sewage plant again in February this year, ten months after the works stopped. The project first started four years ago and was 76 per cent complete when it was reactivated, according to information from the Ministry of the Environment. The government has classified this project as being of General Interest to the State.