The Upper Noguera Pallaresa, a threatened pearl of the Spanish Pyrenees

An exceptional watershed…

Catalan river of the Ebro basin, the Noguera Pallaresa begins in the Pyrenees Mountains, close to the Baret’s plan. Its 30 km long upstream portion presents an exceptional preservation state, without any significant alteration, apart from the presence of a ski resort located near the sources. From a fishery point of view, the entire portion is labeled as “genetic reserve” by the environmental services of Catalonia, which prohibits any fish spill. What is more, the 22 km most upstream part of the river is classified as “no kill” angling.

The first 10 kilometers of the river are located in the Val of Aran Department, which is responsible for the “Natural Environment Management” competency on its territory. The next 20 km are located on the territory of the Alt Pirineu Natural Park, which also holds this competency. On this second portion, the majority of the riparian plots are municipal pastures, where cattle are free-roaming. In winter, access is strictly forbidden, while in summer it is mainly the hikers of the famous GR11 who enjoys the landscape, since this path winds on the western slope of the valley, with the presence of a refuge near the river.

…in a context highly affected by hydroelectricity.

Downstream from this river section presented by the managers as the wildest of Catalonia, the watercourse is nevertheless heavily affected by large hydro-electric dams. From Borén to its confluence with the Segre River, the Noguera Pallaresa, 154 km long in total, has no less than 5 major reservoirs. And this observation is not isolated in the Spanish Pyrenees; for hydropower as for irrigation, many dams have been built.

With issues in line with those of the label

Although protected by multiple regulatory areas (Natura 2000, Nature Reserve), the Upper Noguera Pallaresa waters are threatened by a mining concession project that could start in a couple of years. Gold and tsungene prospections are currently taking place on the ridges of Serrats del Gossos, upstream of Alos d’Isil village. They could result in a large exploitation of the potential resource by an Australian multinational company. However, the sub-soil of the Upper Noguera Pallaresa watershed is karstic, so there is a serious water pollution risk by the various products used for the minerals extraction. For this reason, but also for its impact on the landscape, this project is very poorly received by the local community.

In order to counter this concession project and to offer an international recognition to the river, the Natural Park is interested in the “Wild Rivers Site” label. That’s why Marc Vande Vliet, an international fishing guide who knows the Spanish Pyrenees very well, put the Wild Rivers project team in contact with Marc Garriga Lujan, the Park’s director. With them, a first visit of the catchment area took place on October 26th, 2018. Since then, a joint work has been launched to clarify the certification process on the territory and to advance the candidacy of the Noguera Pallaresa River.

Thus, on December 13, 2018 the project “Wild Rivers” was presented to the Governing Board of the Natural Park. On this occasion all stakeholders involved in the approach (Park, EMD Isil Alos, municipality of Alt Aneu, Fishing Federation of Catalonia), have expressed interest in the label.

Continuation of the work on the basin:

  • February 2019: Connexion between the Alt Pirineu Natural Park and the Val d’Aran General Council to consider the local approach.
  • March 2019: Reflection on the certification method to implement on the territory and support for local actors.
  • Summer 2019: If the interest of the actors for the label is confirmed, finalization of the “Wild Rivers” European reference and elaboration of the Noguera Pallaresa candidacy file.

 

Photos : Rivières Sauvages, l’Alt Pirineu Natural Park, Jordi Ferrer