Drought brings new tourism trend in Spain

by Lorraine Williamson
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MADRID – The current lack of rain, consumption and the sharp drop in the dammed water in Spain’s reservoirs are creating a ‘new trend’ that tourists are responding to. This ‘drought tourism’ appears to be an increasingly common practice. 

Visitors wander through ruins that used to be underwater. These travellers roam the streets and ruins of old villages that were flooded because they had to make way for reservoirs. 

See also: Drought in Spain reveals sunken villages in reservoirs 

Extreme weather conditions favour the increase in this practice. Spanish water reserves are currently at an average of 50% of their capacity. However, the differences throughout the country are large. Reservoirs in Catalonia, Andalucia, Castilla-La Mancha and Murcia are in much worse shape than those in Galicia and Asturias, for example. As a result of the persistent drought, countless villages are rising above the water level again. This not only attracts former residents and their surviving relatives but also other interested parties who want to see this phenomenon with their own eyes. 

Not everyone is happy with extra visitors 

However, Joan Riera, mayor of Vilanova de Sau (Barcelona), is not happy with this practice. The politician has therefore decided to limit access to the Sau reservoir. This reservoir is currently at 38% of its capacity. Exactly a year ago, it was at 66%. Therefore, this does not bode well for the coming summer. 

The tourist attraction of this reservoir is the church of San Roma. It sank below the water level in 1962 and has become exposed again due to water scarcity. Riera has clarified in EFE that the arrival of visitors due to the drought is not a “fact to be celebrated”. According to him, the “uncivilised attitude” of some tourists can be added. “It is good that there is tourism and that they enjoy the village and the environment, but it is true that so much tourism also harms us,” argues the mayor. According to him, more waste has accumulated in recent weeks than in the rest of the year. 

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Dolmen appeared again 

The same happens in many other places where drought causes former villages to rise above the water level. Last summer, the ‘Dolmen de Guadalperal’ suddenly appeared again in the province of Cáceres. This was covered by water in the 1960s when the Vadecañas reservoir was built by the Franco government to collect the water from the Tagus. At the moment, the prehistoric monument is still underwater, but possibly not for long. 

In Portomarín, in the province of Lugo, the lack of water allows tourists to walk through the old village. The same applies to other places in Galicia, such as Bande (Ourense), Cantabria, Navarra, Extremadura and a number of reservoirs in Andalucia. 

Building of reservoirs by Franco 

During the Franco dictatorship in Spain, nearly a thousand reservoirs were built between the 1940s and 1970s. This water storage was part of an ambitious plan to increase agricultural production and improve the energy supply. The plan was known as the “Plan de Regadíos” or the Irrigation Plan. The largest dam was the Aldeadávila dam in Salamanca province. 

The construction of the dams led to the displacement of thousands of people, mostly farmers and agricultural workers, who were forced to leave their homes and land to make way for the reservoir. This resulted in great human tragedies and was condemned by many activists and intellectuals at the time. 

Despite the controversy and social costs associated with the construction of the dams, they significantly strengthened the Spanish economy and contributed to the modernisation of the agricultural sector. They also generated energy that was needed for emerging industries in the country. 

Related post: Drought in Spain: 27% of the country is on alert or already in distress of water shortages 

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