The Júcar River Basin Authority is an autonomous body depending on the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Environment. Its main functions are the following:
The hydrological basin plan is established as the main instrument through which the Water Framework Directive reaches its objectives in regards to water and environmental policy, including the achievement of “good status” for all water bodies.
L’Albufera of Valencia, defined as water body in the category for lakes, is part of an immeasurably valuable wetland. It has a great variety of habitats that allow the existence of an extraordinary fauna and flora species diversity.
Located in the coastal plain of Valencia, the wetland covers some 21.200 hectares, even though its surface has decreased in the past centuries. The ecological importance of L’Albufera of Valencia was internationally recognised when it was included in the RAMSAR list of wetlands of international importance back in 1989. Moreover, it is also included in the National Inventory of Wetlands and is part of the Natura 2000 Network.
Its ecosystem values, its geographical location and its socio-economic influence make L’Albufera a reference site in the actions developed by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Environment. Given the importance of the lagoon, the former Ministry of Environment organised and coordinated the “Study for Sustainable Development in L’Albufera of Valencia” (http://www2.chj.gob.es/programaAlbufera/index.html), with a budget of 2,52 million Euros. A work plan and public participation process were established, and it ended in October 2004. It was unanimously approved by all participants, including the local and regional administrations, universities, agricultural and ecologist organisations and, of course, the Ministry of Environment. This process allowed the design and programming of a series of actions.
The unanimous recommendations in the study indicated that L’Albufera of Valencia is far from its good ecological status due to the excessive inflow of organic matter and inorganic nutrients. It was necessary to bear in mind both inflow for water requirements and the quality of that water.
In the past few years, as a consequence of a great investment effort in different actions, such as the development of Sanitation and Depuration Plans, the untreated discharges have decreased significantly. This has resulted in a reduction of nutrients and organic matter and, consequently, a reduction of phytoplankton. This quality improvement of water inflow entails a certain downward trend in chlorophyll–a concentration, even though the average yearly values are still high. Nevertheless the effluents of the wastewater treatment plants have significantly grown since the beginning of this century, and they can contribute to not achieving the good ecological status if they affect L’Albufera with inadequate phosphorous concentrations.
The lake is currently an hypertrophic system. Zooplankton is reduced in comparison with the large amount of phytoplankton and there is no submerged vegetation, which is a key element for the good performance and regulation of the system. Another factor to add is the shortage of benthic fauna and that associated to plants, as well as the disappearance or drastic reduction of species of great ecological importance in the lake.
Most experts agree that the ecological quality of the system in the 60s is a model to achieve in the future, even though they understand that it is not viable to fully reproduce the water status of the system back then. Biological quality must, therefore, be understood as a maximum ecological potential.
For the achievement of the good ecological potential in L’Albufera of Valencia, the different public administrations are making an important investment effort with the development of actions that, altogether, will add up to 170 million Euros.
The measures being taken can be grouped in two action lines: the reduction of polluting inflow and the improvement of hydromorphological conditions.
Moreover the advantages and disadvantages of the possible action alternatives established will have to be analysed. Amongst others, these are the alternatives for action that should be assessed: ending the execution of ongoing actions related to sanitation, increasing the restriction of quality parameters in the discharge authorisation for sensitive areas, possibility of using water flow and particularly flushing methods as a tool to prevent the explosive growth of phytoplankton, analysing proposals and making decisions on the integration of the existing artificial wetlands in water management in L’Albufera or progressing in the knowledge of the effect of the existing phosphorous in the sediments on the lake’s ecosystems, amongst other alternatives.
The implementation of the afore-mentioned alternatives represents an important economic cost and a higher complexity in the lake management but might contribute to reaching the environmental objective established for L’Albufera lake, which is achieving its good ecological potential.