Fifty agricultural companies in Campo de Cartagena (Murcia) could have illegally dumped into the Mar Menor a total of 6.6 million cubic meters of brine, originating from the unauthorized desalination of some 26.5 million cubic meters of water extracted from the underground aquifers in the area.
This is stated in a car notified this Tuesday by the head of the Court of Instruction number 2 of Murcia, Ángel Garote, who is in charge of the case opened against these companies and agrarian organizations in the so-called “Topillo case”, which began in December 2017.
The magistrate, who just a year ago called to declare those responsible for 63 agrarian companies under investigation for these alleged crimes of illegal dumping , has now dismissed the proceedings on 14 of them for lack of evidence.
But continues the investigation on the other 49, for which he has requested new expert evidence that allows individualizing how much damage each of them did to the already affected ecosystem of the Mar Menor, in a situation of collapse for years, and the possible economic damage caused.
The investigation, which started from a harsh complaint from the superior prosecutor of the autonomous community , José Luis Díaz Manzanera, tries to clarify whether these companies extracted water contaminated by nitrates from the aquifers of Cartagena, which is not used for irrigation, and treated it in illegal desalobradoras.
This treatment generates the so-called “brines”, waste that would have been discarded, either through the aquifers themselves, or through the Albujón promenade, which flows into the Mar Menor, worsening their situation more and more.
In January 2018, the Civil Guard inspected 67 agricultural farms within the framework of this operation and 38 desalination plants and 35 wells that were operating without authorization were sealed. Some of these desalobradoras were hidden in zulos and operating at full capacity.
During the instruction, numerous documentation has been collected that evidences the consumption of substances that are used for the operation of the desalination plants and expert reports have been prepared on the existing crops in each investigated farm, the water deficit that each one of them had and the wells from which the water could have been drawn.
The judge points in his order to five criteria common to all the companies that continue to be investigated and that “show a plurality of indications that allow to affirm with a high degree of probability that it has been able to desalinate water and carry out unauthorized discharges.”
Specifically, these are companies that had one or more wells and one or more desalination plants on their farms, that had stockpiled consumables that are used to operate these machines, that suffered from a water deficit according to expert reports and, in some cases, which had extracted quantified amounts of water and that cannot be used in its original state for irrigation.
The new expert report that the judge is now requesting to continue with the investigation seeks to determine, in addition to the amount of alleged discharges from each of the companies, if the water desalination and brine discharge operations allegedly carried out “are likely to damage generate a serious risk to the quality of air, soil or water, or to animals or plants and if they can seriously damage the balance of natural systems, and specifically the ecosystem of the Mar Menor ”.
It also seeks to find out if it has been possible to create a risk of serious damage to people’s health and to quantify the economic damage caused by each of the discharges that are attributed to those investigated.
This “Topillo case” has gone through various judicial vicissitudes: after the investigation began, in February 2018, the then head of Court Number 2, Miriam Marín, decided to divide the case into 26 different parts, but upon being replaced by Garrote in charge
The court decided to group it again, as requested by the prosecution and the private prosecution of Ecologistas en Acción. In addition to agricultural companies, the case investigates a dozen officials and former senior officials of the autonomous community and the Segura Hydrographic Confederation, among them, the former councilor Antonio Cerdá, or the former president of the CHS Salvador Fuentes Zorita.