An environmental agent finds a pipe that has been left uncovered in the Campo de Cartagena – the Cartagena Field, a region in southeastern Spain. Its content is proofed. It is brine, the result of water desalination. But this brine is also loaded with nitrates, because it resulted from the desalination of water extracted from an aquifer polluted by fertilizers. A high risk mix for water bodies such as the Mar Menor. If nitrates accumulate in them, they can trigger eutrophication, originating the so-called 'green soup'.
Eutrophication. (nom. f.) Process by which nitrates fertilize algae and phytoplankton, causing their uncontrolled reproduction, preventing light from reaching the bottom of the lagoon. The water turns green and the seagrass dies.
It is decided to seal the pipe. A contract is made. Four or five workers arrive at the site with the necessary machinery. A few minutes before starting, a call is received. The manager tells the workers to stop, because the call is from the presidency (of the Confederación Hidrográfica del Segura – Hidrographic Confederation of the Segura Basin, the regional water authority). The operation is cancelled. The environmental agent who found the pipe talks to a colleague who tells him that when he joined the Confederation, the commissioner told him to "forget the issue with the desalination plants". (Environmental agent 1932’s witness statement in the Topillo case, to which DATADISTA has had access.)
What they have discovered is only a minimal glimpse into what is to be found underground. "The issue with the desalination plants" is by then a problem composed of hundreds of illegal installations and a dense network of underground pipelines that discharge into the sewage system or into creeks and from there into the Mar Menor or into aquifers.
On that same year, south of the Campo de Cartagena, local farms undergo one last major transformation. In 2011 old structures completely disappear: terrace work intended for rain fed agriculture, able to retain water in this area of great scarcity. Forested areas are put under cultivation, topography is altered, farming is done downslope avoid water stagnation and potential root rotting.
When the rainy season comes, water flows quickly and freely down the slope towards the Mar Menor, dragging along fertilizer nitrate. Urbanized areas such as Mar de Cristal are rapidly flooded
A huge pipe appears on the side of the highway. No one has seen it installed, no one owns it, no one can be held responsible for it. The Seprona agents who inspect it declare not to have any doubt: it is a channel designed to collect runoff from farms and take it directly to the Mar Menor. (Documents from investigations on the flooding of the Mar de Cristal and Playa Honda developments, to which DATADISTA has had access).
The waters of the Mar Menor turn into a green soup for a few months. The government of the Region of Murcia and the CHS rush to adopt measures to stop discharges into the lagoon.
Gota fría (Cold front).The figures of the catastrophe that happened in south-eastern Spain on the 12th and 13th of September will stay in the collective memory for a long time. Eight dead, about 800 people rescued from inside their flooded vehicles or houses in the region extending from Murcia to Alicante, a deployment without recent precedent of 1,300 soldiers on land, sea and air. Firefighters, red cross, police. The images will remain. Vehicles adrift, people clinging to a tree so as not to be dragged by the current, waterfalls coming out of houses, streets turned into canals; chairs, shelves, boxes, books, private lives improvising a trench along roadsides. Lost crops.
There's an image the cameras haven't captured. Another disaster that has been cooking for decades in the Mar Menor and under the Campo de Cartagena. The monitoring data published by the Autonomous Community (local government) show the worsening of oxygen levels in the lagoon and an increase in chlorophyll since the summer. The heavy rains that fell on September 13th made the situation worse.Next chapter: The truth about the transfer ››