Decades of protests about the distribution of water in Spain have come to a head with a major demonstration on the streets of Madrid on 11 March.

Protesters descended on the city to demand that the Spanish government scrap its plan to build 110 dams and pump a large volume of water from the Ebro river in northern Spain to fruit and vegetable growing areas in the southeast.

The protesters said that water diversion would destroy freshwater wetlands at the mouth of the Ebro, as the silt which maintains the delta became trapped by the dams. The delta’s rice farmers said that saltwater would creep inland, ruining their rice fields.

The Ebro valley meanders for 900km from the Cantabrian mountains near Santander on the Bay of Biscay to the Mediterranean near Terragona, 90km south of Barcelona.

Opposition parties want to take water from the Rhone in France, but although the Rhone authorities have agreed to the transfer, Madrid says it is too expensive. Environment Minister Jaume Matas says he plans to take only 20% of the water from the Ebro that normally spills into the Mediterranean.