Europe and Central Asia
19 Jun 2020

Victory: destructive Biscarrués dam will not be built

© Río Gallego Vivo
By Jeremy Herry
In the midst of a climate and biodiversity crisis, it can be difficult to find a reason to cheer. We’ll give you one: after a legal battle spanning nearly three decades, the Spanish supreme court has finally prohibited the construction of the destructive Biscarrués dam and reservoir. This historic ruling saves thousands of hectares of natural habitat, numerous species, and protects the socio-cultural heritage of the La Galliguera region. Our Spanish partner, SEO, has been on the front lines of this legal battle.
The Biscarrués dam was going to flood a section of the Gallego river in Huesca, to irrigate large areas of Monegros, in Zaragoza. This would have caused severe environmental damage, destroying a well-conserved river, and dramatically harming vulnerable flora and fauna along the way. It was even going to damage protected Natura 2000 sites and strike a strong blow to Gallego’s local nature-based economy.
In short, we’ve avoided an ecological and social disaster. And what finally caused the dam project to fall was EU law.


Photo credits: © WWF

Oh, dam: a legal battle with deep implications
The dam project was in direct violation of the EU’s Water Framework Directive. This was the main legal argument used by Spain's five major environmental NGOs, SEO/BirdLife, Amigos de la Tierra, Ecologistas en Acción, Greenpeace and WWF Spain, when they joined forces to file a judicial appeal against this project – a historic first. This was on top of the legal appeals already done by the Coordinadora de Biscuarrués-Mallos de Riglos group and the local councils of Biscarrués, Murillo de Gállego and Santa Eulalia de Gállego.
Yet still the Spanish government insisted on this project, despite the damage it would cause to the river, biodiversity and the local economy. After the first complaint against the project, it was cancelled by the National Court for violating the Water Framework Directive (WFD). But the dam promoters would not leave the river alone: they appealed that judgement. That made the case go all the way to the Supreme Court, which ratified the National Court’s assessment: the dam project was confirmed to be in breach of EU law, despite the Spanish government’s claim that the project was of “general interest”. And the river was saved!
One crucial aspect of this legal decision is that it has implications for all future cases of a similar nature: the Supreme Court interprets the application of the WFD for all of Spain. According to the environmental NGOs that have been fighting this battle, this judgement should motivate the review of all “general interest” hydraulic projects that damage rivers or their environment. There’s hope for the future!

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