The existance of Aquifer 23 in La Mancha was first discovered during the 1970's. At first the aquifer could only be accessed through very small wells that took water from two meters deep. When new, deeper pumps were installed which enabled deeper access to the aquifer, local farmers started systematically using the water for irrigation in the area of La Mancha.
The extent of the problem in the park was first brought to the public's awareness in 1980 when the aquifer was provisionally declared overexploited. By 1988 the aquifer was officially declared overexploited and the government established limitations for farmers.
From that point onwards farmers could only access half of the water that they had been originally given the rights to. However, due to the high number of rights historically granted to farmers, overuse of the aquifer was still very high.
In total it was estimated that the amount of water that was taken from the aquifer was still double the amount that could be used to regenerate it. As the water level in the aquifer continued to decrease, the amount of water in the aquifer dropped by 3000 cubic hecto-meters.
In the early 90s the park suffered a further setback due to a massive drought. In 1994 and 1995 as well as for a number of years afterwards, the area was extremely dry, adding even more stress to the aquifer.
By 2009 Las Tablas de Daimiel was completely dried out, causing the top ground layer to crack and allowing oxygen to reach the peat. This in turn caused the peat layer underground to start burning.
Peat is sediment composed of ancient fossilised vegetation. Due to the dryness of the park this peat layer became as combustible as a material like coal.
In Las Tablas de Daimiel the peat layer has been forming for more than 300,000 years. As a consequence the peat layer is very thick and more than 8 to 10 meters deep.
Smouldering embers from the peat layer formed a significant amount smoke. This created an extremely dangerous situation, not only burning the vegetation, but also the seeds of the unique plant species.
With the loss of this unique vegetation, the wide variety of birds that live in the park can’t survive. The inter-relationship between the plants and the birds is a key to maintaining the ecosystem of the national park. This balance is made even more delicate due to the fact that the park only has 2,000 hectares of flood plains to support it.
The damage caused by drought seemed like it would be irreversible until 2009, when three years of higher than average rainfalls began. This high rainfall was sufficient to extinguish the fires and help replenish the parks aquifer. However, the groundwater levels have not fully recovered and unless more work is done to make water use in the area sustainable, a recurrence of the situation in the late 2000's is extremely likely.