One of the most ambitious projects in the NSRR is the restoration of the Orbigo river situated in the convergence of the Luna and Omana. The currently heavily modified 108km long river, managed by the Duero River Basin Authority, drains 4990km2 of the Duero basin at a discharge 40 m3/s in its original braided and meandering geomorphology. The river has since been embanked and channeled, causing hydraulic malfunctions and flood risks to the urban and sub-urban communities on the river banks; the modifications also affected the aquatic and riparian ecosystems negatively. Under targets set by the EU Water Framework Directive and the Floods Directive, the pressures to be mitigated in the Orbgio river are the flood control and flood risk, as well as the stabilization of the banks, erosion control, and the state of the eco - hydrology.
The restoration of the Orbigo river benefitted from the implementation of various Natural Water Retention Measures (NWRM), such as levee removal and setbacks, rip-rap removal, recovery of secondary channels, floodplain reclamation, and re-afforestation of the riparian zone with native species. The public participation process was carried out over three years and 50 meetings, where local authorities and stakeholders had the chance to help consult on the project and its implementation and monitoring.
Engaging the public was necessary as the project clashed with stakeholders that benefitted from the channelization of the river in various sectors, such as housing, farming, and poplar plantations. Challenging antecedent beliefs that support the channelization and reduction of natural floodplains was done through public funded environmental education, encouraging active participation of the public and raising awareness of riverine ecosystems. This also garnered the support of use public funding and the necessary expropriation. A volunteering program was also introduced, with 800 participants that had a significant impact on the attitudes toward the project locally, and nationally through coverage in media and dissemination of the project as a reference case, used by students and professionals alike. A video was also made in Spanish and English, detailing the steps and motivations of the project for companies and partnerships.
The restoration of the Orbigo river was an exemplary practice of integrated water resource management and land use policies, covering concepts such as “room for the river”, green infrastructure, ecological restoration, intra-sectoral planning, and a comprehensive and engaging public consultation.
The impact on the media and dissemination of the project was widespread and detailed, allowing the project to be revisited by river basin authorities wishing to reclaim the ecological integrity of respective rivers. The volunteering program and public participation also helped engage the public, which allowed effective pedagogy of the environmental education necessary to go through with such a large scale effort.
Photo: "Nacimiento del Río Órbigo como unión de los Ríos Luna y Omaña" (Birth of Orbigo River). By Sanyerme (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons