On 9 October the Arroyo Benajarafe stream broke its banks, flooded the village (which is in Vélez-Málaga municipality) and left several families cut off, all because of the mud and plants that were blocking the riverbed. Two weeks later, the same thing occurred in several places in Estepona, especially around the Padrón and Guadalmansa rivers which, due to the heavy rainfall, were turned into a quagmire covered in reeds and undergrowth. Just a few weeks ago it was Marbella's turn, when the rain caused the Arroyo Realejo to overflow and turned the rugby field into marshland.
It is not always possible to fight the force of water, as those who have been affected know, but what is clear is that the accumulation of vegetation, sediment and waste in the rivers and streams does not exactly help to minimise the effects of a storm.
Far from being an exception, the scene during one of the rainiest autumns in recent years in Malaga province is similar in many of the water courses along the coast. In most of them vegetation or accumulated earth are evidence of a lack of foresight by town halls, who are responsible for maintaining them in urban areas, as decreed in December last year by the Supreme Court. The court decision put an end to the eternal arguments between the regional government and local councils about who has to keep rivers and streams clear when they pass through towns.
Costa del Sol
Marbella is facing the rainiest time of year with only four of its many rivers and streams having been cleared. As a result of the Supreme Court decision, the council allocated 30,000 euros this summer for work to be carried out on the most problematical areas. These included the Benabolá and Segundo streams; the final stretch of the Arroyo Las Cañas Verdes; the middle of the Arroyo La Víbora, as well as a general clearing of several others which run close to properties: Primero, La Represa, Nagüeles and Guadalpín, in the town centre; Realejo, Siete Revueltas, Alicate, Real de Zaragoza, on the east side of Marbella; Pozuelo and Panorama.
According to information from the Environmental Department, the works were only completed on the Benabolá, Primero, Segundo and Guadalpín streams, and they involved removing rubbish and invasive species of vegetation. The remainder is due to be carried out once the rains have stopped. The council also says that it is working on putting a contract out to tender for cleaning and maintenance of nearly all the rivers and streams for one year, for an estimated 80,000 euros.
In Estepona residents have also been calling for more to be done after the heavy rain on 21 October which caused several rivers and streams to overflow. Hundreds of houses in the countryside were cut off when the water tried to recover its natural path, and the owners blame the authorities for not having done enough to prevent the situation.
On the eastern Costa, the biggest problems have been due to an accumulation of sediment and stones in the river and stream beds, especially in Rincón de la Victoria and Vélez.
This situation, combined with the amount of vegetation and other waste such as plastic in the highest areas pose a serious danger in the case of heavy rain.
People in Torrox are also complaining about the vegetation in the Manzano stream and Güi river, and the situation is similar in the bed of the Seco river in Nerja.
Action in Malaga
In Malaga city, as a result of the Supreme Court sentence the council tripled its budget this year for clearing the three most problematical water courses (Guadalhorce, Guadalmedina y Este) but, looking at the results, those 160,000 euros were not enough.
On Saturday, after the neglected condition of the Guadalmedina river bed was highlighted in this newspaper's Spanish sister publication SUR, municipal operatives were brought in to clear some of the dense vegetation. The stretch upstream from the city centre between Las Virreinas, Palmilla and Martiricos, also suffered an accumulation of rubbish and pools of stagnant water from the Limonero reservoir (water is released from it for safety reasons on the first Wednesday of every month).
The risk of flooding is low because of the containing role played by the dam, but the unpleasant smell and the insects are a nuisance for people living nearby.
On the eastern side of the city, people look worriedly at the streams every time the heavens open. This is understandable, not only because of previous experiences but also due to the tonnes of earth which have accumulated in the final stretch of the Gálica and Jaboneros streams, effectively blocking about half the capacity of evacuation of the bridges which cross them. At the moment, an excavating machine is dredging the mouth of the river to make it easier for it to flow into the sea.
At Jaboneros the problem lies in the build-up of earth, but in stretches of Las Cañas, such as at Soliva and before the industrial estates on the way to the Guadalhorce river, the vegetation is so thick that the water can barely be seen. That is also the case with La Rebanadilla stream, which runs parallel to the access road to the PTA (technology park) and is almost completely blocked by undergrowth.
These are not the only points in the city that need better maintenance, despite the Civil Protection plan to check rivers and streams every year to identify the critical points so that something can be done before the rainy season.