Society 04/09/2021

Joan Pino: "There is no expansion of El Prat airport with zero environmental cost"

Clara López Alcaide
3 min
Joan Pino, director of CREAF, at the Ricarda natural area.

BarcelonaDoctor in biology, Joan Pino, director of the Centre de Recerca Ecològica i Aplicacions Forestals (CREAF), explains that the expansion of El Prat airport above the protected natural area of La Ricarda, as envisaged in the draft project presented by Aena, would have significant negative impacts on the biodiversity of the Llobregat delta and the health of the residents of nearby towns. All this, in a climate emergency scenario.

If the runway is finally extended over La Ricarda, what effects will it have on this space?

We know that now there is this proposal, but we will have to see how it develops. That is, we will have to see if it finally fits environmentally, because the protected areas in Europe do not allow any action that involves significant effects on the site. The Ricarda is a very important piece for the ecological functioning of the delta. Its affectation has two negative elements, on the one hand the same value of the space and on the other because it is one more piece of this functioning, which is increasingly precarious, but which ensures a series of environmental services to the entire metropolitan population.

How can it affect the surrounding population?

Without going any further, with the whole issue of water regulation, La Ricarda is part of a hydrological system that extends throughout the delta and any intervention can alter the functioning of this hydrological system. This implies effects on the hydrological barrier that does not allow the entry of seawater and, therefore, prevents the salinisation of the delta and guarantees the use of the deep aquifer as a source of drinking water, among others.

Could there be problems with water availability?

We don't know what will happen because it depends on how the action is carried out, but we have to bear in mind that the municipality of El Prat de Llobregat currently captures water from the aquifer and is using a resource from the delta. We also have to think that this entire freshwater system that discharges into La Ricarda has already been affected by the construction of the third runway, and how this has had effects on the salinisation of the delta, the intrusion of seawater, among others.

Would the extension destroy the functioning of the delta and could this system be reproduced elsewhere else?

A system like this is very difficult to reproduce. We believe that La Ricarda is the visible part of an underground system. La Ricarda is its marshland, it is its participation in water flows that come from the mountains, from the river, and that end up in the sea. All this is there, there is an associated functioning and we will have to see how it is affected. It will probably be very affected.

It would need the endorsement of Europe first...

Affecting a protected area that is part of the Natura 2000 Network is not so simple. A whole series of measures will have to be put on the table and we will see if they are accepted. The Llobregat river flowed through La Ricarda 300 years ago and there are a series of elements that are responsible for the diversity of species and that organise the hydrological functioning of the delta. All this diversity and all this hydrological functioning would be lost.

What would happen to the fauna and flora?

We would lose one of the two natural reserves of the delta. It is a reserve with an exceptional state of conservation that is not easy to reproduce. It is not easy to change a nature reserve for a newly built pond in which we try to reproduce some habitats. We tried this in Cal Tet, which is a newly created lagoon next to La Ricarda, and it has not worked too well.

Would there be any expansion that would be compatible with maintaining the functioning of the delta?

The Barcelona City Council presented up to five possible alternatives that included several possibilities, from changing the flight configuration to combining El Prat airport with Girona and Reus airports. There were, therefore, several options, and the most important ones were the ones that involved the extension of the runway and the alteration of La Ricarda. There are other options. But there is no option with zero environmental cost.

Beyond the effect on the delta and La Ricarda, what environmental impact could the airport expansion have, for example, in terms of emissions?

It is obvious that the more planes, the more emissions. And also the more planes, the more combustible gases are released from the planes over the delta. Having a larger airport in a territory that has its limits implies more concentration of certain pollutants. It is not my field of work and therefore I cannot give reliable data on this subject, but it is obvious that all this does not work too well in a climate emergency context like the one we have.