By JOSEPH WILSON, Associated Press

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — The European Union has slammed a plan by southern Spanish lawmakers to extend farmers’ irrigation rights near one of Europe’s largest wetlands, arguing that this will further endanger an important wildlife refuge that is already drying up.

The Andalusian regional government wants to grant water rights to farmers on 1,460 hectares (3,607 acres) of land near Doñana National Park, which the United Nations cultural agency has designated as a heritage site world and biosphere reserve.

Andalusia’s regional parliament is due to vote on Wednesday on whether to consider the government’s proposal. The ruling coalition of Conservative and Liberal parties has the support of the far-right Vox party needed to introduce the bill, and the measure could become law in the coming months.

Spain’s Minister for Ecological Transition, Teresa Ribera, on Tuesday urged the head of the Andalusian government to abandon the plan. Ribera said the European Union’s executive board had warned of “heavy fines” if steps were taken to extract more water from Doñana Park after repeated warnings and a European court ruling last year. latest that scolded Spain for not protecting its ecosystem.

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Ribera quoted a letter to the Spanish national government from the European Commission’s director-general for the environment, Florika Fink-Hooijer, expressing “deep concern about the possible repercussions (…) on habitats” if the proposal becomes law.

Located on an estuary next to the Atlantic Ocean in southwestern Spain, the 54,000-hectare (133,000-acre) park of Doñana is home to some 500,000 migratory waterfowl and one of the last refuges of the lynx Iberian and the endangered Spanish imperial eagle.

But the surrounding region, like other parts of Spain’s coastal areas, is both an important tourist destination and an agricultural powerhouse that produces fruit and vegetables for export throughout Europe. The lands near Doñana have become major strawberry producers, in particular.

Andalusian President Juan Moreno defended his plan last month before the European Parliament. He argued that farmers were already illegally exploiting the area in question for water and that the bill would only formalize its use and allow for better control by the authorities.

“The park can’t be some kind of fishbowl that people are going to stare at,” Moreno said. “It must also clearly be part of the economy of the region.”

Environmental group SEO Bird Wildlife said the proposed ordinance would legitimize excessive water use in an area that “year after year loses its biodiversity and its ability to resist climate change, mainly due to overexploitation of water. ‘aquifer that produces this wetland’.

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