BARCELONA – Catalonia is facing a severe drought. This is so serious that the Generalitat (the regional government) is considering declaring a state of emergency for the entire urban area of Barcelona this month.
In this scenario, drastic measures are being considered. It would come into effect when the level of reservoirs falls below 16% of their capacity. Currently the reservoirs are at 16.5%.
Intensive measures considered
In response to this threatening situation, both the Generalitat and the Municipality of Barcelona are considering strict restrictions on water use and consumption. One of the most notable proposals is to require the reuse of shower water for toilets in some buildings.
Emergency measures nearby
Patrícia Plaja, spokeswoman for the Generalitat, indicated that if no rain falls to fill the reservoirs, it is very likely that a state of emergency will occur this month. Such a state of emergency would result in the current ‘state of exception’ being replaced by highly restrictive measures. This could include limiting irrigation, banning the filling of swimming pools, and closing fountains.
Innovative gray water plan
The Barcelona city council is working on a regulation that will be adopted in 2024. These regulations would require the installation of a system in new buildings or major renovations in buildings with at least 8 or 10 homes. This system collects shower water, purifies it and pumps it to the toilet tanks in the building.
This initiative is not new; in Sant Cugat del Vallés, another municipality in Barcelona, this method has been used for more than twenty years in around 400 homes.
Changes in the irrigation system
Barcelona Cicle de l’Aigua notes that 80% of the city’s green spaces are currently irrigated with drinking water. In an emergency situation, this would change. Then groundwater would be used for that. This groundwater is more sensitive to pollution and cannot be drunk or purified due to chlorine and salt formation. However, it could be used for irrigation of parks and gardens.
Trends in water consumption
According to the Barcelona City Council, water consumption in the city has fallen over the past 20 years in all sectors: domestic, commercial and municipal. An average of 173 gallons of water is used per person per day. This is within the limits of the ACA.
Phases of the emergency
There are several phases of the state of emergency: phase 1 (which they plan to implement this month) has a limit of 200 litres per person per day; phase 2, 180 litres; and phase 3, 160 litres. With current consumption, Barcelona does not expect to introduce domestic water restrictions, such as shut-offs or pressure reduction, until the summer. However, spring will be crucial for these decisions.
Catalonia ended 2023 with the worst drought in the region since records began. According to Catalonia’s Meteorological Service, precipitation levels were 30% to 50% below the 30-year average. December was the ninth month of the year with a rainfall deficit, indicating a further decline in the reservoir levels that supply the majority of the population.
Barcelona finished 2023 as the second driest year since records began in 1914. The lack of rainfall has also contributed to higher temperatures, making 2023 the hottest year on record. Water reserves have decreased to 16.73% of capacity, prompting the activation of the first level of emergency anti-drought measures.
The Generalitat plans to declare a state of emergency and impose stricter measures to combat the extreme drought. These measures will mainly target tourism and industries that are highly dependent on water.