Catalonia eases drought measures: what is and is not allowed?

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Fortunately, it has rained in recent weeks in the very dry parts of Catalonia. This precipitation has not resolved the drought, but it has reduced the strain on water supplies. As a result, the interdepartmental drought committee has decided to lift the state of emergency for the Ter-Llobregat area.

These are the areas around the Ter and Llobregat rivers in the provinces of Girona and Barcelona. These must provide water to a large urban area, including Girona and Barcelona. A state of emergency has been in force here since the end of January 2024 due to drought. The water supply level is now over 25%. That’s a significant increase since March’s 15%.

Based on this improvement, the regional Minister for Climate Action, Food and Rural Agenda, David Mascort, has decided to confirm the transition to an exceptional scenario. This means that stricter measures than have been in place so far can be avoided.

The available data allows the region mentioned to remain in the state of exception at least until the end of this year. This is based on an expectation of ‘historically minimal rainfall’ during this period. So even if rain were minimal, a state of emergency is not expected to be declared again before the end of the year. On the other hand, if more rain falls than usual in autumn, as has been the case so far this spring, the exception phase could be extended even further or even alleviated.

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What will change from Monday, May 13?

The relaxation of the measures, which will be officially announced in the regional official gazette of Catalonia, will come into effect next Monday. The changes are positive for approximately 6 million residents.

The following rules apply from Monday:
  • Water consumption per inhabitant may not exceed the limit of 230 litres daily. That limit was 200 litres per inhabitant during the state of emergency.
  • Water use in urban areas is reduced by 15% for recreational use and by 50% for irrigation.
  • Industrial users must reduce their water consumption by 15%. This is a relaxation compared to the 25% reduction during the state of emergency.
  • In agriculture, water consumption is reduced by 40%. That was 80% during the state of emergency. A reduction of 30% applies to livestock farming (which was 50%).
  • For both public and private swimming pools, only partial refilling or initial filling (if they are newly built or renovated or repaired) is permitted. Provided that they have a water recirculation system (and only in the quantities necessary to guarantee the sanitary quality of the water).
  • Gardens and green areas may only be watered in such a way that plants and trees survive.
  • Watering grass is not allowed, except on sports fields for organised sports.
  • Cleaning streets and sidewalks in urban areas with drinking water is prohibited.
  • Vehicles may only be washed in specialized companies.

The summer is coming

Despite this easing of drought measures, the Catalan drought commission still warns to remain vigilant and to continue to use water very consciously. The summer is coming. This means that little more rain can be expected. In addition, it is a period of high water consumption by swimming pools, public showers and irrigation. This is exacerbated by the increase in users in the region due to all the tourists who come to spend their holidays in the area.

Criticism of lighting measures

Catalan environmental organisation Aigua és Vida is critical of the government’s decision to lift the drought emergency phase in the Ter-Llobregat system and relax some restrictions. According to the organisation, the drought is “far from over”. The expected heat in the coming summer will also contribute to greater evaporation of the water masses. According to the agency’s calculations, water reserves fell by 6 points between May and October 2023. On this basis, Aigua és Vida predicts that “the limit of re-entering an emergency phase will be reached” after the summer. Moreover, the government’s message would be counterproductive to water conservation efforts and awareness campaigns.

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