One of the most emblematic wetlands in Spain is the Albufera Natural Park, situated on the Mediterranean coast of Valencia. The park is a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention, a Zone of Special Protection for Birds and a Natura2000 site. The lake of Albufera is at the heart of the park and the site is located only 10 km south of the city of Valencia and surrounded by a population of more than 200,000 inhabitants. The lake used to be a typical Mediterranean coastal lagoon with salty water but today it is a freshwater system that is managed as a small reservoir by local rice farmers. Urban and industrial growth since the 70’s and the introduction of aggressive agricultural practices produced a deterioration of water quality and linked habitats. Overall, the site has been heavily modified, 67% of its surface is currently occupied by rice fields, and the lake has become a hypereutrophic aquatic system with turbid waters, high pH and oxygen fluctuations.
Around the Natural Park, conventional measures have been implemented to try to comply with the Water Framework Directive (WFD), by focusing on aspects of water quality improvement for example improving the sanitation infrastructures and wastewater treatment. In addition, other non-conventional measures have been introduced: since 2006 two public organisms, the Confederación Hidrográfica del Júcar (CHJ) and Aguas de las Cuencas Mediterráneas (ACUAMED), both linked to the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture and Environment (MAGRAMA), developed the restoration of three rice fields (Tancat de la Pipa, Tancat de Milia y Tancat de L’Illa) to convert them into Constructed Wetlands (CWs) in order to improve the water quality and to increase biodiversity.
The LIFE ALBUFERA project started in October 2013 and has duration of 3 years. It aims at integrating the three CWs of the Albufera of Valencia and at establishing the most suitable management rules in order to optimize both water quality and habitats alike, and hence to improve biodiversity in compliance with the Water, Habitats and Bird Directives. The activities of the LIFE ALBUFERA project are related to hydraulic and vegetation management of the CWs. Continuous or intermittent flow, the water level, the hydraulic loading rate (water volume per surface unit and time), type of vegetation, harvest and disposal, plantation density are some of the tasks to be performed to finally elaborate a management guide to operate the wetlands. A list of conclusions will be drafted at the end of the project, which may feed into the territorial management plans for Natura2000 sites and in the hydrological management plans. The effectiveness of the project is assessed through the monitoring data including water quality (physicochemical, phytoplankton, zooplankton and aquatic macro-invertebrates), sediments, vegetation and avifauna monitoring. For instance, water quality points are sampled in each CW every three weeks and variables like dissolved oxygen, pH, conductivity, organic matter (COD), nutrients (TN, TP), suspended solids (TSS), turbidity and alkalinity are measured.
The results of the first year of the project during which 15% the Albufera Lake’s water volume was introduced into the three CW, showed significant water quality change and load removal.
From a biological point of view, CW’s contribute to reducing the concentration of phytoplankton (about 80%) and increase the zooplankton (200%). Consequently, an improvement of the overall ecological status can be observed by the presence of macroinvertebrates.
Moreover, the first campaign of tracking the waterfowl breeding in the CW’s produced interesting results mainly due to the difference in microhabitats offered, related to the level of flooding, vegetation structure and floristic composition. The variation of microhabitats will be studied further during the two years of the project in order to define habitat requirements and interactions between species. Vegetation management will bring additional benefits because of the role restored wetlands play in climate change mitigation and adaptation, including the storage and sequestration of carbon.
Communication and dissemination activities at local, national and international level are another fundamental part of all Life projects, raising awareness on the role of water bodies in the recovery of disadvantaged habitats and species.
Based on an article by Miguel Martin Monerris, Professor, Technical University of Valencia on the project LIFE12 ENV/ES/685 ALBUFERA.
Mr Antonio Guillem
Visit the website www.lifealbufera.org
“constructed wetlands: working with water for people and biodiversity”
The Life+ Project Albufera has prepared an innovative online seminar scheduled for the 30 April 2015. Known international experts among them representatives from Ramsar, the Lake Winnipeg Foundation or the Wetlands Foundation of Colombia will address and discuss specific topics of management of natural spaces and constructed wetlands focusing on the three main topics of the Life+ Albufera Project: water, birds and habitats.
Please download the programme here.
All the videos are available in English and Spanish here. The results are summarised in the international newsletter (April 2015) of the project.