Floods landscape and Green Infrastructure in the Mediterranean area


A river is perceived as a degraded, dangerous and devalued element in the Mediterranean landscape. The historical flood management did not help to change people’s mind; quite to the contrary, it turned rivers in artificialized and controlled channels. At this point, the Green Infrastructure approach at a regional and local scale could integrate hydrographic network in spatial planning and highlight its natural functions and its potential as a recreational space.

A few days ago I wrote some allegations for a Flood Control plan. It was the “Defense Plan against flash floods in the Marina Alta zone (Alicante, Spain)”. This project was planned as a result of the huge flood that occurred in the Marina Alta region in 2007 by the Hydrographical Confederation of the Júcar River, the River Basin public management administration.

The Mediterranean area is widely known by its low precipitation rate, and also its high rainfall intensity.  Our short, hard-slopped rivers remain completely dry the most of the year. Moreover, the 80% of population lives in cities build in the river plains near the coast. All this makes our territory a time bomb due to flash flood hazard in rainy season, from September to November.

After the catastrophe we lived on 2007, people from different cities in the Girona River basin decided to create a Citizen Platform, and as a member of the Platform I read the Defense Plan and wrote the aforementioned allegations.

The Defense Plan present two kinds of measures:  structural and not structural measures. Both are completely unbalanced, because the non-structural measures as reforestation, education, emergency plans, urban Planning, etc., are barely developed. Those made me think about the landscape of floods. Flood is a natural hazard historically solved with structural or technical measures developed by engineers. These measures create new landscapes: infrastructure landscapes, or more specific: floods landscapes.

Some paradigmatic examples worldwide known are:

  • Thames river barrier (London, UK). Construction started on 1974.
  • Delta Works (Netherlands). Construction started on 1976.
  • Saint Petersburg flood prevention facility complex. (Saint Petersburg, Russia). Construction started on 1978.
Oosterscheldekering_wiki_Nils van der Burg

Oosterscheldeker (Delta Works) Source: Wikipedia (author: Nils van den Burg)

Oosterscheldekering-pohled_wiki_Vladimir Siman

Oosterscheldeker (Delta Works) Source: Wikipedia (Author: Vladimir Siman)

Examples that implied a tremendous landscape impact and solved a big problem for highly populated areas. A huge threat, a huge solution.

Saint_Petersburg_dam_(view_from_Kronstadt)_wiki

Saint Petersburg Dam. Source: Wikipedia

Thames-Barrier2_wiki

Thames Barrier. Source: Wikipedia

The flood landscapes we find in Mediterranean rivers are not too exceptional. Nevertheless, this is a kind of landscape much more frequent and easy to observe. I mean, while the Thames river barrier or the Delta works are impressive punctual infrastructures, the complex of dams, retaining walls, canalization of rivers, water transfers, etc. on a Mediterranean small river basin have a really big impact on landscape and ecosystems.

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Beniarbeig new bridge on Girona river. The old one was destroyed by 2007 flood.

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Girona river going through El Verger village

The rivers in the Mediterranean area are increasingly becoming more controlled and artificialized. The structural measures are frequently more used than non-structural measures. Reforestations, changes in urban Planning or educational measures are not common, and when they are developed they are often lacking a clear planning roadmap. However, we are getting used to it. Used to see grey walls and stone walls instead of our native river plants (Phragmites communis, Nerium oleander, Rosa spp, Rubus spp., Crataegus monogyma, Tamarix, Salix, Fraxinus, Populus…). In some cases, there are efforts to recover natural vegetation but with poor performance as in the Beniarbeig River meander.

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A bridge in El Verger village

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New protection wall on a Girona river meander

The Defense Plan involves the building of seven dams, several canalizations, and some water transfers from rivers to paleochannels (gulches) or to lower areas in case of flood, and to rebuild a lot of bridges to improve hydraulic capacity.  All this interventions are needed to reduce flood risk and damages, but they introduce important changes on natural elements and ecosystem functions.

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Beniarbeig meander (Girona river) after revegetation

The landscape impacts are the most notorious, particularly in rivers where the native river forests were completely replaced by urban and agricultural soil uses, and by exotic invasive plants (like Arundo donax). Even more, common people usually think that the continuous spots of Arundo donax on river banks are completely natural/native vegetation.

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Arundo donax occuping Girona river

All of this comes to the conclusion that Mediterranean rivers are terrific examples of:

  • Vernacular but forgotten landscapes,
  • Valued but degraded landscapes,
  • Natural but artificialized landscapes,
  • Beautiful but dangerous landscapes.

Integrate rivers in a regional Green Infrastructure could remember, value, regenerate rivers and learn to coexist with natural hazards

I have worked on a study proposal for a Landscape Master plan in Montcada (Valencia, Spain) for my Master Degree. The Carraixet River was close to the area and one of the aims was to plan a Green Infrastructure. The proposal turned the river into one of the most important pieces of the regional Green Infrastructure in the area. It promoted the natural regeneration of the river and recovered its social value. The Carraixet River is a natural place but becomes a natural place to enjoy and to use it as a linear connection between places.

Carraixet

Proposal for Carraixet river (visualization)

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Carraixet river at present (and before proposal)

Landscape planning at a regional scale is a great opportunity to change river management. The Green Infrastructure and its development could provide a new view on rivers. Regeneration of Rivers Basins is not only a chance for river ecosystems, but also to control flood hazards, and to improve quality of life and vernacular landscapes for people.

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