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Rivers, lakes and wetlands of Spain


There are some 1,8000 rivers in Spain. There are said to be 172,888 km of natural watercourses, though many of these are dry for much of the year. The name Guadalquivir comes from the Arabic, Wadi al-Kabir meaning great river. The Guadilquivar plain from Seville to the coast is almost totally flat.


Seville is just 9m above sea level yet is 100km from the coast.

The standard modern-day Spanish word for stream, "arroyo" comes from the Latin "arrugius" meaning gold mine or underground passage "arrugia" meaning a galleried mine.

There are some 150,000 wetlands in Spain , most of which are small or tiny. They cover 114,000 h of the 280,000 ha left in 1800. Wetlands probably once covered 500,000 ha - 1% of Spanish territory.

The largest inland lagoon is Gallocanta in Zaragoza with 1,400 ha followed by Fuentedepiedra in Malaga with 1,300 ha. Both are shallow saltwater lagoons.

There are 444 mountain lakes and 82 karst lakes, 14% and 49%, respectively are considered highly degraded. There are 637 inland freshwater wetlands.

Between 57% and 60% of Spanish wetlands have been lost (see table below) with most of this fall taking place between 1965 and 1990. An example is the historical reduction of the Guadalquivir Swamps from 200,000 ha to a still considerable 36,000 ha..

The surface area of Ramsar sites in Spain has risen from 173,124 hectares to 283,873.

Spain is home to almost all of Europe's saline steppe wetlands. Over the last 30 odd years a combination of groundwater extraction, drainage, flooding and infilling has led to the loss of over 65%. Groundwater extraction to for irrigated agriculture has been particularly to blame.

One such case was the near loss of the internationaly important wetland of the Tablas de Damiel marshes, where a huge increase in extraction rates resulted in a drastic fall in the water table, though recently a transfer of water and the policy of buying up water rights seems to have saved the site.