New and disturbing news about the Yesa dam heightening

Antonio Aretxabala (geologist and activist)

After the latest news about the movement of the spillways of the Yesa dam and the request made by several groups to the Senate to promote a Commission of Inquiry on the Yesa regrowth -especially regarding its economic framework, as Pedro Arrojo, Rapporteur for the Right to Water of the UN and myself requested in 2016 and 2018 in the Parliament of Navarre and in Aragón Courts -, I read in the media that it has been a year since the Ministry for Ecological Transition delivered a report of the Illustrious College of Roads, Canals and Ports of Spain (ICCCP) to the Government of Navarra and the Hydrographic Confederation of the Ebro (CHE) on the safety of Yesa and its future. A report that, however, the Government of Navarre claims not to have received.

More than 21 years have passed since Jaume Matas (currently serving several sentences for corruption in various criminal plots) laid the first stone that, on May 18, 2001, inaugurated the extension works of the Yesa reservoir. A budget of 113 million euros (equivalent to 18,800 million pesetas at the time) would be the initial award for a work that would be completed in 2005.

However, the first technical reports warned that the work would be extended until 2009. After the pertinent modifications based on changes in the initial project, more reports were made and the newspaper El Mundo brought to light a huge landslide on the left slope in 2007 that had to be admitted by the Ebro Hydrographic Confederation (CHE) to set the horizon at 2015.

In the course of the enlargement, especially after the catastrophe of 2013, new reports emerged that detected serious geotechnical problems on both slopes, so that the horizon to complete the majestic enlargement went to 2016 and later to 2017 as definitive. This was communicated to the political groups and to society in general, even ignoring the voices of several experts affirming the impossibility of fulfilling such a daring promise.

Then, it was the Court of Auditors – an entity of everything but geological nature – which in 2018 gave a blow on the table for the budget deviation that was already triple and the time lag (more than 12 years had passed since the initial delivery date), calling into question «its social profitability in terms of satisfying the public interest to which it should respond».

But the whims of fate took it to 2019 and a somewhat stubborn nature insisted that no, that neither. So the Government of Navarre requested, for just over 240,000 euros, another report of international and definitive scope that it received in December of that year 2019.

The Government of Navarre welcomed with notorious joy the fact that the right slope, which had been the most rebellious, was in «strict equilibrium«, that is, neither stable nor not stable, as its spokesman, Javier Remírez,, transmitted from the institutional and private media to the citizens, to our public company (CHE) and to the political formations of Navarra. Then 2020 would be the definitive date.

Yesa: strict balance, safety factor (FS)

But 2020 had started with new cracks as a superficial manifestation of the newly formed rupture surfaces. They were necessarily accompanied by new reports, some of them independent, such as those of the University of Zaragoza and the New Water Culture Foundation or the University of the Basque Country, which were already presented online after the global pandemic declared by the WHO.

So 2021 would be the date. But as with a thin dog everything is fleas, in 2018 the Government of M. Rajoy had already left a poisoned gift with another definitive report, the real definitive one, the one commissioned to the Illustrious College of Civil Engineers of Spain (ICCCP) before leaving the Government of Spain after the motion of censure due to the serious sentences of corruption that condemned the party in power; the report would be delivered in 2020 but an extension was requested and it went to 2021.

The current coalition government was forced to ensure that 2023 would be the definitive date. However, that was not going to be the end of the project of the century either. The president of the Ebro Hydrographic Confederation (CHE), through various media, was in charge of announcing the new date: 2027. Even the spillways of the dam had been moved, so they would have to be cancelled and rebuilt in a stable place, the nearest one being more than 50 meters away from the current ones.

Average evolution of the Factor of Safety (FS in red) of reports made between 2001 and 2021. Note how it decreases with the budget increases (in green in millions of euros) that came with the successive modifications of the project.

In this 21-year itinerary in which some who are already parents were born under the threat of the irresolvable instabilities of Yesa, a double-digit number of reports and a budget approaching 500 million euros have been unable to ensure the work, its deadlines and the environment.

Quite the contrary, as we observe in this compilation graph (like the one above) that shows the average evolution of the Safety Factor (SF) of reports carried out between 2001 and 2021, the budget increases (in millions of euros) that came with the successive modifications of the project, meant a decrease in safety, culminating in 2020 with the acceptance of subjecting the population to greater risk and threat (this important step is explained in this video from minute 21’30» or at the end of this article in the same video that closes it).

Two housing developments, El Mirador and Lasaitasuna, have had to be forcibly expropriated and demolished. The old dam was raised on the right abutment almost two centimeters and the slope that supports it slid more than 30 centimeters, while it still continues to give shocks to the population of Sangüesa from time to time. The new landslides are activated and deactivated to the sound of the rains, the filling or emptying. Nothing is known about the new spillways.

The Ministry for Ecological Transition delivered a year ago a report of the Spanish College of Civil Engineers (ICCCP) on the safety of Yesa to our public company CHE and to the Government of Navarra.

What is known is that, thanks to the questions of a senator of Compromís, Carles Mulet, who is neither Navarre nor Aragonese, the Ministry of Teresa Ribera delivered a year ago the final report of the definitive ones to our public company CHE and to the Government of Navarre, the report of the College of Civil Engineers of Spain.

Nobody, as far as is known, knows of its existence and with the question of the parliamentarian Adolfo Araiz to the Government of Navarre about its whereabouts and conclusions, last April came the surprise. The literal response from the Executive, signed by the Minister of the Interior and Vice President Javier Remirez, said:

«Pending its conclusion, the Government of Navarre has not received any information regarding the status of the final opinion of the report entrusted to the College of Civil Engineers (ICCCP) to which it refers …». So as published in April 2022 by Diario de Noticias «Nobody knows, therefore, in the Navarre Executive, or at least there is no record, that this report is completed or the content detailed in it, and if therefore endorses the continuity of the work».

Dozens of definitive reports since 2001, which ceased to be definitive after each landslide previously qualified as impossible, each crack covered, each rupture… And if all those definitive reports with expiration date had not been enough, now nobody knows where is the new report that should be the most definitive of all, the report that should endorse the safety of Yesa and that was commissioned four years ago. Nobody can find it, neither in drawers nor in computers.

And meanwhile, among so many lies, silence, uselessness, irresponsibility and institutional recklessness, there continues a work that should never have been started, that has taken away urbanizations, that squanders huge amounts of public economic resources, that prevents a proper management of water resources in times of climate change and that casts a long shadow of high risk on the downstream populations.

A time bomb that evidences two things: the historical evolution towards increasingly unsafe situations and an absolute disregard for the lives of thousands of people by assuming and encouraging the increase of these risks and threats to favor new businesses financed with public money.

In whose hands are we in?


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