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Artist's impression of the private desalination plant proposed by Magtel on the land where the plant will be located. SUR
When will the eastern Costa del Sol-Axarquía desalination plant become a reality?
Drought crisis

When will the eastern Costa del Sol-Axarquía desalination plant become a reality?

Farmers together with Andalucía's regional government are starting to process the applications and will hand over the studies to the central government, which will be in charge of the final project and the work

Chus Heredia

Malaga

Wednesday, 26 June 2024, 17:09

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The project to build a desalination plant in the drought-stricken Axarquía area to the east of Malaga province has finally got under way with the farming community who have been intensifying contacts with Spain's central government and the state-owned company Acuamed (Aguas de las Cuencas Mediterráneas) to indicate the levels of water they need to irrigate their land.

Throughout the process the farmers have received advice from the Junta de Andalucía's department of agriculture, whose head, José Ramón Fernández Pacheco, met on Wednesday 19 June with the secretary of state for agriculture, Hugo Morán. The Axarquia desalination plant took up a large part of the meeting.

The Mancomunidad de la Axarquía association of town halls must also make a request for the volume of water needed for domestic purposes.

The land is provided by the Junta, the money for the work and the project is advanced by the government

The desalination plant is planned to be built near the existing Vélez-Málaga wastewater treatment plant, which is on land near to El Ingenio shopping centre and the Vélez-Málaga exit from the A-7 motorway. The property belongs to around six owners so expropriations have to be carried out. However, sources consulted by SUR have said that the government still has certain doubts about this location due to issues related to coastal dynamics.

It is also clear, and this was stated in a recent parliamentary reply to the mayor of Nerja, José Alberto Armijo, that, as it is a project of general state interest, it will be the central government that will entrust its company Acuamed with the processing of the project and work and the respective tenders.

Irrigators take the initiative to speed up permits, applications and projects

An agreement between the central and regional governments to speed up procedures means that the farmers are working with the regional technicians and a consultancy firm on the preliminary project. The idea is to have everything ready by the end of this year or early next year to put the project out to tender, which, in any case, is unlikely to start until 2027 or 2028.

Government to provide 100 million euros

The central government is to provide the 100 million euros that this infrastructure, which is designed to produce 25 cubic hectometres per year, is expected to cost. This is a significant amount, given that domestic consumption in La Axarquía is around 22 hm3 per year.

Following the heavy rains in March, water for the area comes from La Viñuela reservoir and the Chíllar river wells in Nerja. The transfer of 270 litres per second from Malaga city has ceased.

The irrigators form a single entity to opt for water

This summer, irrigators throughout the Guaro Plan (elevation 140 metres) will receive 3 hm3 of relief irrigation from the La Viñuela reservoir.

Plant and soil background and characteristics

Central government and the Junta de Andalucía have finally put behind them the controversy over who was to finance the project, although there is ongoing tension.

The reply to the mayor of Nerja indicated that the new desalination plant was included as a priority action in Royal Decree-Law 4/2023 of 11 May, which adopted urgent measures to tackle the drought.

The official text admitted that Acuamed must be entrusted with the work and have a project that has been approved by the state ministry of ecological transition.

Other precedents are the formalisation of the land provided by the Junta in January 2024 and an agreement between the two governments in May last year in which there were loopholes like the one that led to the misunderstanding between the two entities over who was responsible for drafting the project.

The document sent to the ministry explains the reasons for the choice of land. "Vélez Málaga, and especially the axis of the river Vélez, is the ideal municipality for the installation of the desalination plant in the Axarquía because it is centred on demand and because it has the closest general irrigation pipes.

Following these conversations, the town hall has stated that it considers, and this has been reflected in a town planning report signed by the chief architect of the architecture and town planning service on 1 December 2023, that the ideal location for the plant is the land near the Vélez Málaga treatment plant, on the left bank of the Vélez river[...]".

The distance to the coastline of the site is 2,000 metres, 400 metres to the Vélez river and the average elevation is 20 metres above sea level.

The private project

This project is unrelated to the one started by the private initiative in this area, which involved Magtel, Acciona and Trops in alliance with the University of Malaga. Enquiries made by SUR suggest that this project will be shelved in order to prioritise the public one.

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