Spain's Segura River wins IRF European RiverPrize

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Vienna, 3 March 2016. The Segura River of Spain has been named the winner of the International RiverFoundation's 2016 European Riverprize. The award ceremony took place in Vienna's city hall for the third time.

Riverprize winners pose for photograph

The Segura River of Spain is the winner of the International RiverFoundation's 2016 European Riverprize. The International RiverFoundation (IRF) presented Mr Miguel-Angel Rodenas, President of the Segura River Basin Authority, with the award at a gala dinner held at Vienna City Hall on Thursday 3 March, recognising the river's extraordinary return to health following extensive restoration efforts over the past thirty years.

The Segura River Project has successfully restored the health of the river, with advanced wastewater schemes now supplying reclaimed water to the agriculture industry, which rapidly boomed after Spain became a member of the European Union. This once polluted and water-stressed river in Europe's driest basin has been transformed from an exposed sewer to a healthy, vibrant river, home to otters, migratory birds, and other flora and fauna. The reuse of irrigation water has allowed increased agricultural, leisure and recreational activities.

Mr Bart Fokkens, Chair of the IRF European Riverprize judging panel and Chair of the European Centre for River Restoration, congratulated those who contributed to reviving the Segura River and praised their holistic approach.

“The Segura river management is a great example of an integrated approach with environmental, social and economic restoration activities. The established management framework includes a solid science foundation and shared governance, while the catchment management planning process was ahead of the European legislation requirement. These demonstrated innovations created almost a miracle under the scorching sun of Spain!”

The IRF European Riverprize is awarded annually for outstanding efforts in river management, restoration and protection, and the Segura River was selected over the Aragon River (Spain) and the River Trent (UK) who were also finalists for the prestigious prize.

The Segura River will now automatically qualify for stage two of the Thiess International Riverprize in 2016, awarded to those who demonstrate world's best practice in sustainable river basin management, restoration or protection. The 2016 Thiess International Riverprize will be awarded at the 19th International Riversymposium in New Delhi, India, on 13 September 2016.

The ICPDR won the International Riverprize in 2007 and helped establish the European Riverprize in 2013.

About the Segura River Project

In 1986, Spain became a member of the European Union. This milestone marked an increase in the production of agriculture and canned food and, consequently, a rise in wastewater discharges and lack of water. As a result, the already water-stressed Segura River in Europe's driest basin became an exposed sewer.

The Segura River Project was developed by the Murcia Government's Regional Water Department, in partnership with the Segura River Authority and town councils in the region, to restore the health of the Segura River and to supply reclaimed water to the booming agriculture industry.

Between 2001 and 2010, 100 water treatment plants and 350 kilometres of wastewater collection systems were built. In addition, a wastewater reclamation levy was established to finance the operation, maintenance and monitoring of these systems, applying the principle “the polluter pays”.

A major breakthrough was achieved in 2003 when the quality of the Segura's water started improving. Since 2010, pollution has been unnoticeable, leading to the recovery of fauna and flora including increased otter populations in parts of the river they had once abandoned. Birds now rest at two recovered wetland areas recognised by the Ramsar Convention, during their migration between Europe and Africa. In addition, around 110 million m3 of reclaimed water is reused annually for agriculture in the region.