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Morphologic development, relative sea level rise and sustainable management of water and sediment in the Ebre Delta, Spain

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Abstract

The Ebre (Ebro) Delta is one of the most important wetland areas in the western Mediterranean. Ca. 40 % of the delta plain is less than 0.5 m above mean sea level and part of the southern margin of the delta is at mean sea level in an area protected by dikes. Both mean rates of secular subsidence in the Ebre Delta and eustatic sea level rise are ca. 1 – 2 mm/yr. Thus, the present annual relative sea level rise (RSLR) rate in the Ebre Delta may be at least 3 mm/yr. Measured accretion rates in the delta range from 4 mm/yr in the wetlands surrounding the river mouth to <0.1 mm/yr in impounded salt marshes and rice fields. The annual sediment deficit in the delta plain to offset RSLR is close to 1 million m3/yr. Accretion rates in the rice fields prior to the construction of large dams in the Ebre watershed were higher than RSLR rates, from 3 – 15 mm/yr. At present, >99 % of the riverine sediments are retained in the reservoirs and rice fields are losing ca. 0.2 mm/yr.

Future management plans should take RSLR into account and include control of freshwater and sediment flows from the river in order to offset negative effects from waterlogging and salt intrusion, and maintain land elevation. This will include the partial removal of sediments trapped behind the Ribarroja and Mequinença dams. Stocks and inputs of sediments in the corresponding reservoirs are large enough for land elevation of ca. 50 cm in the whole delta plain.

Advantages of this solution include (1) new sediments to the delta to offset subsidence (via rice fields) and coastal retreat, (2) enhanced functioning of the delta (productivity and nutrient processing), (3) avoidance of accumulation of sediments in the reservoirs. Hence, it is important to manage river discharges at the dams from an integrated viewpoint, whereas currently only hydropower and agricultural requirements are considered. It is also crucial to maintain periods of high discharge, to have enough river energy to transport as much sediments as possible.

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Abbreviations

RSLR:

Relative sea level rise

S.E.T.:

Sediment erosion table

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Ibàñez, C., Canicio, A., Day, J.W. et al. Morphologic development, relative sea level rise and sustainable management of water and sediment in the Ebre Delta, Spain. J Coast Conserv 3, 191–202 (1997). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02905244

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02905244

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