MADRID – The European Union has launched an investigation into a prized Spanish wetland that has turned bone dry through mismanagement of water resources and is now on fire underground, an EU official said Thursday.
The bloc wants information from the Spanish government on what it plans to do to save Las Tablas de Daimiel National Park in the central Castilla-La Mancha region, European Commission spokeswoman Barbara Helfferich told The Associated Press from Brussels.
The park is one of Spain's few wetlands, and is classified as a UNESCO biosphere site and an EU-protected area because of its birdlife.
But it has been drying up for decades, largely because of wells dug by farmers — many of the wells are illegal — in areas on the edges of the park to tap an aquifer that feeds the wetland's lagoons.
In August, intense summer heat and parched soil combined to trigger spontaneous ignition of peat just under the surface, and now several areas of the park are on fire underground, with white smoke creeping out of deep cracks in the parched soil.
"We have seen a situation where there is continuous degradation of territory," Helfferich said.
The European Union informed the Spanish government of the investigation last week, and Spain now has 10 weeks to tell the bloc how it plans to respond to the crisis, Helfferich said. In a worst-case scenario, over the long term, the EU could punish Spain with a hefty fine if it deems the government's management of it insufficient, she said.
She cited the "underground fires which at the moment cannot be extinguished" and said the EU has asked Spain "'How are you going to deal with that?"'