The lack of action or even the historic laziness of the public administrations in providing adequate sewage treatment facilities has not only a high environmental cost but also an economic one. And it is very sizeable. In Malaga province alone the authorities - and therefore the taxpayers - are paying 4.46 million euros a year towards the fine imposed by the EU on Spain in July 2018 for three places which were still failing to treat their waste: Coín, Alhaurín el Grande and Nerja. The historic court decision that highlighted the shameful situation in a total of 17 areas of the country dates back to 2011, although the fine came seven years later, when the European Commission got tired of waiting for Spain to make progress.
Estepona and part of Marbella were also on the black list, but by the time the fine was imposed the Guadalmansa plant and the collectors at San Pedro Alcántara had come into operation. That meant there was no sanction for delay, but there was still the original sum of 738,290.98 euros to be paid.
Between the four cases, the accumulated amount so far has risen to 10.61 million euros, of which 5.11 correspond to the two projects which are the responsibility of the State (Estepona and Nerja) and the remaining 5.49 million for the Junta de Andalucía's projects in Coín and Alhaurín el Grande. It could be worse, because Cártama was not included in this judicial process. It is the fourth largest municipality in Malaga with no sewage treatment, but the sentence was for failing to comply with the EU regulation which made 2001 the deadline for populations greater than 15,000 to treat their waste. At that time, Cártama had 13,400 inhabitants, which is half of its present population.
The meter is still ticking away
For Spain as a whole, the fine was 12 million euros, plus another 10.35 million for every six months of failure to comply after being notified of the sentence. The State has now paid 32.7 million euros to the European Commission (the initial fine, plus the period between July 2018 and July 2019) to which another 20.6 million will have to be added for the second half of 2019 and the first of 2020.
As far as Malaga province is concerned, the government has paid the first 6.1 million euros, although it is demanding that the Junta de Andalucía pays for the part for which it is to blame. According to a decision in parliament on 10 March, Andalucía will have to pay three million euros: 1.53 for Alhaurín and 1.47 for Coín, and the sum will keep increasing until the treatment plant for the Malaga metropolitan area comes into operation. It will treat the waste from Alhaurín el Grande and Cártama, but will not be ready before 2024. Until then, an extra 634,320.36 euros will be due every six months. So far, since the initial fine, the amount has built up to 2.8 million euros.
The Junta de Andalucía says it plans to go to the Supreme Court to overturn the government's decision to make it pay three million euros of the fine for the lack of sewage treatment in Alhaurín el Grande and Coín, but has not released any further details.