Francisco Jose HIJÓS BITRIÁN
Civil Engineer. Confederación Hidrográfica del Ebro. Ministry for the Environment. Spain
The Rialb dam was completed in the year 2000. The dam is located in the North-eastern Spanish region of Catalonia, on the river Segre, a tributary of the largest river in the Iberian Peninsula: the river Ebro. The project is a multi-purpose one and will bring with it considerable economic benefits. Namely, it will increase the supply of water to 200,000 people; it will consolidate and extend irrigation facilities to more than 100,000 hectares of land ; it will afford an efficient defence against the floods caused by the river to the towns located downstream of the dam and it will allow a replacement flow to be generated, as well as an average hydroelectric output of more than 100 million Kw/h, a year.
However, the construction of the dam meant that 25 Km of river course would be wiped out and that 1,500 hectares of land and three population centres would be flooded, in addition to the destruction of public services and ecosystems within that area. As a result, the affected parties and the local public opinion strongly opposed the project during its first stages (from the public enquiry stages until the project was approved). The opposition was fuelled by the proposed uprooting and relocation of population centres and by the demonstrations in defence of the singularity of the area, under the environment protection banner.
In addition to these arguments, common to the construction of many dams all around the world, there were other arguments with a higher ideological content. In addition, there was the opposition of the rural areas to Barcelona becoming a megalopolis, and a possible beneficiary of the flow of water regulated at Rialb.
Furthermore, during the evaluation and assessment of the environmental impact, the social aspects involved were unsatisfactory handled, due, in part, to the opposition to the project as a whole and to the controversy raised in the area. Consequently, once the project was approved, and prior to the commencement of the works, the preparation of a plan of action by the Administration became a necessity. This plan, in addition to being an attempt to influence public opinion about the dam project, would imply the definition and materialisation of those initiatives that would enable the feasibility, survival and development of the area thanks to, and not in spite of, the resulting new reservoir.
Besides, this plan should be drawn up in close co-operation with, and with the participation of, the affected towns.