Medio Vinalopó

Vinalopó

The Vinalopó is a small river flowing through the Alicante province, in Spain. It flows from north to south and, with its 81 km., it is the longest of the rivers which flow having its entire length within the limits of this province.

For some historians, it corresponds to the Alebus incidentally mentioned by Avienus in his Ora Maritima.

Three comarcas in the Alicante province are named after it: Vinalopó Alto, Vinalopó Medio and Baix Vinalopó which stand, respectively, for Upper Vinalopó, Middle Vinalopó and Lower Vinalopó.

Its source lies in a mountainous part of the northwest part of the Alicante province, between Bocairent and Banyeres de Mariola in the site known as Els Brulls. It does not succeed to discharge into the Mediterranean Sea, but due to its exhausted flow in the lower part of its course, it fades out into a series of small acequias which flow south of Elche into the marshes known as el Fondó Natural park and the Salinas de Santa Pola natural park.

Hydrological regime

Despite officially being called a "river", it is actually more a mere stream, especially south of Beneixama, not far from its source. In that location, historical farming rights allow the farmers to take most of its flow for agricultural purposes. Past this location, it turns more into a tiny channel draining the residual waters of the several cities it passes through. Thus, south of Beneixama, its flow is really scant, saline, and polluted.

The Vinalopó has two even smaller tributaries, the Marchal (a short creek near Banyeres) and the Tarafa (another short creek, which flows through Aspe), but these may completely dry out during the Summer.

Perhaps more important than these are the several different ramblas or dry riverbeds which discharge -when they carry any water at all, that is to say- into the Vinalopó. This is because, despite being a very dry area, the Alicante province suffers periodically (within a lapse which has been estimated as approximately once every 9 years or so) brief episodes of torrential rain (only likely during the Fall, specially October and November). Should one of these happen, then all the dry riverbeds around it add a significant amount of the pouring rain water to the one Vinalopó receives itself under the same weather episode, which allows, for the few days it takes until all this water is discharged, a rare sight of the greater appearance the river may have showed in a very distant past.

During normal conditions (torrential rain episodes aside), its maximum sustained flow is reached by early winter in Colonia Santa Eulalia (near Sax) with an average of just 0,85 m3/s. When it reaches Aspe then its average flow has reduced already to a mere 0,38 m3/s.

Due to the semiarid climate which characterizes most of the lands it goes through (see Geography of the Comunitat Valenciana), the hydrological cycle in the Vinalopo’s small basin is extremely and particularly frail. Hence, should not be for the sustained agricultural usage over the centuries -not only of the river-flow proper but, probably even more important, of the aquifers related to it- it can be argued that the Vinalopó would show the appearance more of a proper river. But at the present point, after centuries of usage and given the scanty precipitation regime in the area, its frail hydrological cycle was definitely broken a long time ago and it is now simply impossible that the aquifers could replenish within a lifetime, even if the exploitation ceased completely.

Notwithstanding, due to the same particularly dry conditions which take place through the areas it goes through, the Vinalopó may have never been really deep or wide, at least not during historical times. Thus, for example, in the 12th century, during the Al-Andalus period, the local author al-Idrîs does not even bother to name it and just mentions “a brackish stream near Elche whose waters are not good for drinking”.

Nevertheless, the Vinalopó has shaped an at times quite important stream bank in some areas if compared to its now meagre flow. Also, after it exits Aspe and all the way until it leaves Elche, it flows through a riverbed which lies quite deep (despite the river's flow itself being really shallow) if compared to the surroundings. This may be partially explained by repeated flooding episodes over the centuries and enhanced by the important erosion which the per se scarcely vegetated matorral areas the river passes through have suffered over the time.

The river, despite having being tiny during historical times, represents a significant corridor through the generally mountainous terrain surrounding it, along which several cities were settled, namely, from north to south, Banyeres, Villena, Sax, Elda, Petrer, Novelda and Elche.

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