Image of the IARA wastewater treatment plant next to the Torrox river. E. Cabezas
Sub-tropical fruit farmers in the east of Malaga province denounce 'brutal' rise in irrigation water price
Drought crisis

Sub-tropical fruit farmers in the east of Malaga province denounce 'brutal' rise in irrigation water price

With the incorporation of the recycled water treatment plants, the costs have "shot up" due to energy and analytical costs, so they are asking the Junta de Andalucía to copy the Murcia model, where the resource is free

Eugenio Cabezas

Friday, 5 July 2024, 11:01

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Recycled water from the east of Malaga province and Peñón del Cuervo waste-water treatment plants in Malaga city is barely enough to maintain the Axarquía's subtropical sector, which until a few years ago was flourishing.

An estimated 14,000 hectares of mango and avocado trees are currently being cultivated in the area. Of this figure, just 6,500 are located below the Guaro Plan at 140 metres above sea level, meaning they were entitled, until 1 October 2022, to receive water from the area's La Viñuela reservoir.

After the 'miraculous' rains over Easter, the farmers are breathing a sigh of relief after the water level went up considerably and guaranteed supply for this summer. This means that growers in the area can have access to a maximum flow of three cubic hectometres, which means around 459 cubic metres per hectare, at their disposal until 27 September. The reservoir, which also supplies 14 of the 31 municipalities of the Axarquía, has just over 29 hectometres, double the reserves of a year ago.

However, the price of has increased up to seven times more than what they were paying for water from the reservoir. Leopoldo López, a farmer from one of the Torrox farming communities and a member of the Junta Central de Usuarios del Sur del Guaro, warned that with the use of recycled water, the cost per cubic metre "has shot up" in recent years.

He explained that his farming community are paying 70 cents per cubic metre compared to just eight or 10 cents per cubic metre previously for the water from the reservoir alone. "We ask the administrations to help us, to give some thought to all this, because we have a very serious problem of profitability of subtropical farms, especially mangoes. This year's harvests of avocados and mangoes are going to be very weak again, and with these costs the numbers don't work out," López argued.

López explained that the irrigation communities that receive recycled water have to pay the electricity costs of the motors for pumping the water up to where the farms are located, from the treatment plants, and the analyses, which are weekly, at the request of the Junta de Andalucía.

"We are asking the administrations to move towards the Murcia model, where the farmer does not pay anything for the recycled water from the treatment plants, because we already pay for it in our domestic bills," said López, who emphasised that the use of recycled water avoids the discharge of waste water into the sea.

"Replanting crops"

President of the Junta Central de Usuarios del Sur del Guaro, José Campos, confirmed that farmers are paying on average five, six and up to seven times more per cubic metre for water which is also, in some cases, showing high saline levels. In his opinion, "we have to rethink the crops, opt for varieties of avocado that can withstand salinity better, such as the Israelite, irrigate as efficiently as possible, install solar energy to optimise and save on electricity costs, which is the main cost we have for pumping, and build more wells to be able to store water during the winter and use it in summer," Campos argued.

"The avocado is much more profitable, but it requires much more water than the mango," said Campos, who has advocated trying to get all the avocado plantations in the Axarquía and Granada's Costa Tropical to reach an average production of ten tonnes per hectare.

Until the drought arrived, the average was barely around six tonnes per 10,000 metres of crop. The Junta Central de Usuarios del Sur del Guaro already groups together more than 7,000 hectares of subtropical crops, of which 4,000 are under the Guaro Plan, both on the right and left banks of the River Guaro.

Farmers on the left bank of the River Guaro were not receiving water from the reservoir until now, as it did not have the necessary channels. Instead they were having to rely on wells or water from the rivers in the area to irrigate their farms.

The irrigation communities in this area, grouped in the so-called Junta Central de Usuarios de la Axarquía, which together account for some 2,500 hectares, almost 40 per cent of the irrigable area, have been asking the Junta de Andalucía, as the competent water authority, to help them to have connections to the water treatment plants at Rincón de la Victoria and Peñón del Cuervo.

According to Jaime Zaldúa, the secretary of this organisation which is made up of 25 communities, explained to SUR that they already have a preliminary project for a 20-kilometre-long pipeline, which would cost around 30 million euros.

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