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Acequias

The major element which shapes the beauty, fertility and culture of the Alpujarras is a network of irrigation channels called Acequias.

By their nature the Acequias leak, thus providing water to the diversity of plants and trees that grow around them. It is the root systems of these plants which in turn support the Acequias on the steep hillsides.

10km further down river from the Alpujarras, a large grey concrete dam over 100m high has been built to capture the waters of the Sierra Nevada mountains. The purpose of the dam is to collect and direct the water to golf courses and an ever expanding sea of plastic greenhouses growing chemical vegetables for northern Europe.

This "dam" project was started nearly 20 years ago and went ahead despite geological objections as to the sense of siting it in a porous limestone valley. Now that the dam is completed at 5 times over budget and rising, it will not work unless most of the water is stolen from the Alpujarras.

To this end work has started to cut off or reduce, meter and entube the Acequias. The Acequia system has been working sustainably for over 1,000 years since having been built by the Berber people.

Putting the Acequias in tubes in order to "save" water will also stop the water supply to the plants that hold the channels to the hillsides thus making them vulnerable to being washed away during heavy rains.

The effect would also be to dry up the many springs that contribute to the unique ecosystem of the Alpujarras. Even though last summer (2005) there was a drought throughout Andalucia, the Acequias continued to run.

It has become more difficult to persuade the "comunidades de regantes" as to the need to tube all of the Acequias, although large sections of many of the Acequias in the Alpujarras are being and have been tubed.

The latest attempt to dupe people into tubing the Acequias is allowed by the new change in water laws which make it easier for private companies to come in and take over the financial running of the Acequias. The idea being that private companies can more easily collect money from members! And are more able to get the grants available for "repairing" the Acequias. On further investigation the grants available are for tubing and metering and/or replacement of Acequias with a "drip" irrigation system. Such an attempt has been made to persuade the members of Tablones comunidad de regantes to sign up to "Servirec." At first the meeting, due to a large number of members from the village of Cigarrones turning up, they were not able to push the agenda through, but with local politicians on the Acequia committee they haven't given up!