During every six-month period, three cubic hectometres of sewage from Alhaurín el Grande and Cártama flow directly into the Guadalhorce river. This is not only a stark reminder of the authorities' longstanding failure to comply with sewage disposal regulations, but also has a hard-hitting financial cost, due to the fines imposed by the EU for not complying with its directives regarding waste treatment in places with medium and large populations.
In the case of Cártama, the European Commission is believed to be starting a second infringement process, but in Alhaurín el Grande the situation is already very clear, as the town was included in the million-euro fine the EU imposed on Spain in July 2018.
This was in relation to a court case in 2011, in which Spain was condemned for failing to comply with the 2001 deadline for achieving zero sewage discharge in towns with more than 15,000 inhabitants. Alhaurín el Grande ended up with an initial fine of 269,332 euros and a surcharge of 634,320.36 euros which has to be paid for every six-month delay. The amount outstanding in July this year was 4.07 million euros.
The cost will continue to rise, because this extra charge will go on until at least 2025, and that is only if the schedule set by the Junta de Andalucía for the construction of the metropolitan sewage plant is met. The project, which was put out to tender in August 2020, will take three and a half years to complete. This means that between now and the time it is completed, there will be six more half-year periods and therefore a charge of 4.4m euros, which will increase the total to 8.5 million.
That is not all. If in addition we include the 2.68 million euros for the lack of sewage treatment in Coín up to autumn last year, when it was connected to the Bajo Guadalhorce sewage works, the cost would be 11.2 million euros.
And who has to pay these sums? Officially it is the State, but the Supreme Court has rejected an appeal by the Junta de Andalucía regarding a three-million-euro bill it was sent by the government for the first payment of the fine (the initial fine plus the period from July 2018 to July 2019), so in fact it will be the regional government who pays. In the court decision, announced this week, the judges were clear that the Junta is responsible, because the Andalusian government declared an interest in the sewage treatment works for these two municipalities in 2010.