The Ebro River is the largest freshwater course of Spain with a discharge (in the lower course) that has been reduced in the last few decades due to the construction of several dams and the corresponding increase of water demand and river regulation. The lowest stretch of this river (about 42 km) behaves most of the time as a highly stratified estuary with a salt wedge. The dynamics of this salt wedge are important from the ecologic and economic points of view and depend mainly on the river discharge, although other factors (like bathymetry and climatology) play a non-negligible secondary role. The wedge dynamics would also be affected by the planned river diversion scheme towards other areas of Spain. This diversion plan would mean a reduction of about 15% of the annual discharge (in the Ebro lower course) and the corresponding impact should be carefully assessed.
With that aim a two-layer hydrodynamic numerical model has been employed to evaluate the role of flow regulation in the Ebro salt wedge dynamics, with particular emphasis on the potential discharge reduction due to the planned water diversion. The model has been calibrated with data acquired during four field campaigns (one per season) carried out during 1999 and 2000. Different scenarios of discharge reduction have been studied. Model results suggest a significant increase of salt wedge extent and permanence associated with the planned diversion scheme. This would entail an increase of saltwater intrusion problems both for aquifers and crops. Copyright © 2003 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.