Interview with Eduardo Lafuente, Coordinator of the LIFE Segura Riverlink Project
In EuroVértice we have participated in numerous projects throughout our history that have meant enormous improvements in areas such as environment, energy, innovation, territorial development or social action. This makes us very proud and encourages us to continue along this way that we are so passionate about.
European funding has emerged as one of the main ways to launch innovative ideas. Thanks to our specialization and a multidisciplinary team, we have been able to collaborate in numerous tasks and phases of these projects, facilitating their development and compliance with European regulations.
With the aim that you can know what they were, we have started a series of interviews with our clients. And this initiative could not start better. Today we present Eduardo Lafuente, head of the Environmental Studies Service of the Water Commission of the Segura Hydrographic Confederation and coordinator of the LIFE Segura Riverlink project, which we assist in its drafting and execution, as well as in administrative assistance and monitoring of technical actions. Through your words you will have the opportunity to discover why it was a great project and the reasons why European funding was of the utmost importance to be able to achieve all the results that were obtained.
With a duration of 4 years, from August 1, 2013 to July 30, 2017, and a budget of € 3,242,250 —the 49.83% co-financed by the European Union— this project was born with the mission of recovering the connection between sections of the Segura River, renaturalize it and recover its function as an ecological corridor. It is also the first European project led by a Spanish hydrographic confederation. “Many have followed our steps. We were pioneers and that’s something to be proud of.”
1. What drove the start-up of the project?
We were in 2013 and it was a very bad time. The financing of all the hydrographic confederations of the Ministry and, above all, the environmental concern of the leading sectors, had been somewhat relegated due to the crisis. In addition, there were other sectors that preponderated. Then, wanting to seek European funding was due to that lack of money and the great interest we had in making a project of river restoration “pure” in Murcia, which was not giving much importance. In our region, given the characteristics of the Segura basin, other issues had been a priority, such as the defence of floods. However, at that time we had the necessary knowledge and, in addition, similar projects were being carried out in other Spanish basins. Therefore, we wanted to start it.
2. How did you do it?
We did not know how the search for European funding worked. It was a bit by chance. We attended a day of the INFO (Institute of Development of the Region of Murcia) on LIFE projects of the European Union. There, my colleague and I was very struck by a slide entitled “Projects financed by administrations”. It turns out that in the case of municipalities, autonomous communities and private companies there had been many. However, in the General State Administration there was only one. That surprised us, so I asked what was due, if the General State Administration could opt for these projects and, if so, why it was not being done. What a Ministry official answered me is that this “he had never needed it, that he had had financing and that he had not needed it”. Despite this, he confirmed that they could be requested. We were delighted there and said “well, why not?”
3. Apart from the main objectives of the project, you also wanted to increase environmental awareness through a series of communication and participation activities.
The Segura Riverlink had a very important technical part, but we also knew that the dissemination and knowledge part was basic. It might sound strange to people what we were doing. Then, we had the obligation and the need to explain it. At that time, however, we were not so conscious. I think we should have given it even more importance. In this region and in this basin there is a certain environmental inculturation, mainly because the Segura gave other types of problems. River restoration has never been a priority. It was assumed that the more prey were made in the river, the better. However, it is evident that this brings other problems. Now, over the years, we have realized what is happening.
4. What are, in your opinion, the most important actions to involve society?
We must try to bring knowledge as close as possible. And that is usually complicated to get with a talk. We have tried to be very proactive and do different things. On one occasion we held a paella contest in Calasparra, which attracted a large number of people, to whom we then explained what the project consisted of. This one sounded to them, although we can say that rice was what really attracted people. However, in the end they were so delighted that, years later, I met people who attended and told me that, thanks to the contest, they got to know the project. For this reason, it must be made easy. Working with schools is the obvious, although insufficient. We can not fix the situation if we only focus on a public under 15 years old. Another very important action would be the diffusion through the media. In addition, we must also communicate to the bosses themselves so they can see what you are doing and what it consists of. In this way, they become aware and are able to invest much more money.
5. Among the actions developed during the project is the elimination of a disused dam in the Moratalla River, the construction of 8 scales for fish and revegetation with riparian species. What other actions could be implemented in the future?
Currently there are, in my opinion, two interesting topics. One would be to do on a large scale what we did, because it was a very small stretch and, since it has been proven to work, the logical thing would be to extend it. On the other hand, it would be necessary to work on flood management in the basin. It is still seen only as channelling, as cleaning, which does not make much sense in the 21st century. It would be very important to adopt natural water retention management measures, an idea that is being implemented in Europe and that is leading to many sites. Here nothing has been done yet and I think it is an idea very likely to have a European subsidy.
6. What are the main results achieved with the project and what should be done to make them last?
The main result is that the scales work. People did not trust that the fish could go up there, but they do. In fact, we know how many rise, what species and how long they take. Everything is monitored and from this interesting scientific topic there were practically no such large studies in the Mediterranean. Some doctoral thesis has even come out of this project. We have also shown that fighting cane is possible, what happens is that it takes time and money. Precisely, right now there is a project in Molina de Segura of 1 million euros consisting of the elimination of canes and the plantation of riverbank forest, which is based on everything we learned during the Segura Riverlink. On the other hand, we eliminated a 1 meter dam. The Tajo has eliminated 17 meters dams and in the United States they are pulling dams of 40-50 meters. It’s a question of time.
7. Could these results have been achieved without European funding?
No, certainly at that time it was impossible. It was not a priority. And, even so, right now I also doubt it.
8. What have been the main difficulties that you have faced and the learning acquired throughout the project?
We have seen how difficult it can sometimes be to deal with Europe, even with help. It’s very complicated. As for what we have learned, we realized that we must invest more in environmental education. At the time we were wrong and we invested too little money. We have also learned the importance of looking for good partners. In that aspect we were very lucky, because they worked very well. And one of the reasons is because we have a lot of help from EuroVértice in administrative and management tasks. Otherwise, we would have been much more complex, given the lack of knowledge we had.
9. Do you think it was a novel project?
Totally. It has been very novel. To think that someone was throwing a dam here was considered crazy. Having someone make a fish scale was not a popular idea either. And to start projects for the establishment of riverbank forests, lasting between 2 and 3 years, when the only thing that was done here was to cut the cane so that it would grow again … Administratively, for us it meant something totally new. Although we have managed many ERDF funds (European Regional Development Fund), the management of these funds has nothing to do with a LIFE project.
10. Did the participation of the different project partners, such as ANSE, universities or the Regional Administration, contribute to achieving the established objectives?
They are key. For example, although we can build the scale, we have no idea if that works or not. There the University of Palencia and the University of Murcia helped a lot. On the other hand, without the CARM (Autonomous Community of the Region of Murcia), co-responsible also in the administration of the Hydraulic Public Domain (competent in environment), it would have been possible, but much more difficult. And without ANSE, public participation would have been much worse. He was a great partner when performing those tasks.
11. How would you rate the participation of companies like EuroVértice in European projects?
In our case they are indispensable today. There are administrations that have experience or have a cabinet that takes care of it. We did not have any knowledge. The problem of the Administration is that we are not specialists almost anything, we are very generalists. Therefore, if you want to get European funds, you need someone who understands. These companies have, in my opinion, a very interesting market niche. On the other hand, as the functioning of European funding changes every 12 or 24 months, it is very important to be up to date, which is easier for a private company than for us.
12. Do you plan to opt for new European projects?
Coincidentally, two days ago I requested a meeting with a person in charge of the CHS to propose new ways. It seems very important to me and I do not stop in my effort.
13. What ways have you thought?
Personally, I really want to work on flood issues. I think it’s key, I think we have to change many of the ideas that are held here. We can not think exactly the same as 30 or 40 years ago. I’m not saying it’s better or worse, but you can not.