On Wednesday we finally got some rain here. It has been a long time coming and when it did arrive it drove down with an unrelenting ferocity that, in pretty short order, turned roads into shallow rivers and gave us a few hours of chaos. It is often the way things go here. The rains, when they do come, come with a vengeance.

Down on the river rains like this breathe new life. The weakened flows of the extended summer are bolstered and the extra flow flushes out contaminants that have been concentrated. I haven´t seen the river since these rains but I can picture it; coffee coloured and pushing its way with renewed intent through the Guadalhorce valley.

Steve Lawler alerted me to news that came came in yesterday.  The lower part of the Río Guadalhorce has suffered through pollution and that hundreds of fish are floating belly up. Birds too have suffered a localised Armageddon. The exact cause is not certain and some of the fish have been taken for autopsy. They suspect high levels of bacterial pathogens in the birds.

It is not the first time I have heard of fish kills like this. Once, maybe 15 years ago or thereabouts, the river dried out along most of its length and huge numbers of fish died. I witnessed this at first hand and was on site to see the sad sight of the diminishing river and the battle for survival waged, and ultimately lost, by the fish in it. It was this experience, in fact, that prompted me to write the only book I have had published. The story was the subject of the first chapter, and provided the title for the book; Dry River.

The Guadalhorce is, unfortunately, susceptible to events like those that unfolded recently. The water that finds its way into the river is often untreated and can suffer from high levels of agricultural, industrial and general waste. There are stretches where we saw beautiful fish rise to dry flies in the spring that I revisited during the summer and it was then possible to smell the river before seeing it. The water was darkly stained and there was not a fish to be seen.

It´s hard to find silver linings for certain clouds. There are legal requirements to improve water treatment in some of the towns whose waters are discharged into the river and at present local authorities are in contravention of EU laws. Things WILL improve but rivers like this one are always vulnerable. There is some good news though. The worst affected areas are in the downstream part of the river and further upstream of the main sources of contamination things should be much better. And of course our recent deluge will shift, or at the very least, dilute and disperse the pollutants. And the fish themselves, mercifully, are tremendously robust and have shown the ability to bounce back in the past.

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This picture was taken from a story published in Málaga Hoy. In the article the river was described as “una cloaca” – a sewer. This is language I would not use myself to describe the general condition of most of the river but in the context of the region under consideration it may not be too far off the mark.