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

by Lorraine Williamson
water shortages

MADRID – The first half of spring brings hardly any rain and unusually high temperatures for the time of year. That would not be a problem if the starting situation were normal. However, it is also characterised by water shortages. 

The 2021-2022 hydrological year ended as the third driest on record. Furthermore, some municipalities were already experiencing water shortages in mid-summer. The rainfall deficit since October 1, the start of the current hydrological year, has consequences for a situation of a prolonged drought that Spain has been experiencing since December last year, according to the State Meteorological Agency (Aemet). 

However, the situation does not only affect Spain. The drought and concern about the lack of rain is also spreading across the rest of the continent, endangering farmland. 

21% less precipitation than in the period 1991-2020 

Last year was the sixth driest in Spain’s history and the warmest since 1961 when records began. Accumulated rainfall was 16% lower than the average and the average daytime temperature exceeded 15 °C for the first time. 

Also read: Catalonia water restrictions affect up to 6 million people 

In the first six months of the current hydrological year, rain has been sparse, according to Aemet’s latest report. From October 1, 2022, to April 11, the average precipitation value is about 21% less than expected taking into account the data from the period 1991-2020. 

Areas with rainfall above and below normal

In the Cantabrian periphery (excluding Galicia), in the southeastern half of the peninsula and the Canary Islands, the amount of accumulated rain is below normal. The areas with the lowest levels, which in some cases do not reach 75% of their normal value, are in much of Murcia, the coastal areas of Catalonia and the easternmost islands of the Canary Islands. 

The areas with above-average rainfall are found inland and in the western third of the peninsula (not counting Andalucia), in points such as Huesca or Cuenca, as well as in much of Majorca, Menorca and the centre south of Tenerife. 

Lack of rainfall

Aemet’s predictions for the coming months suggest that the weather will continue to be warmer than usual. Aemet spokesman Ruben del Campo also points out that there is usually little rainfall from the month of May. Except for periods of storm and even hail. “But it’s not usually widespread or sustained periods that help alleviate a situation of meteorological drought like the one we have now.” 

ASSSA - health insurance in Spain

Related post: Can water shortages in Spain be solved with desalination? 

According to the SPEI indicator, the severity of the drought increased in April. With extremely dry or very dry levels in much of the country (including the Balearic Islands). Exceptions are points of Aragon, the Valencian Community and the west of the peninsula. 

Part of the country is in a state of water scarcity 

The Ministry of Ecological Transition and Demographic Challenge (MITECO) publishes monthly reports and maps that track the situation of drought and scarcity in all hydrographic demarcations of the peninsula. Following the Special Drought Plans (PES), the agency distinguishes between prolonged drought, understood as a natural phenomenon with no human intervention, and scarcity, related to specific problems in meeting water demand. 

As for the prolonged drought, the latest data from the end of March shows the effects of a particularly dry month on the peninsula. The Territorial Drought Units (UTS) have grown from 22 to 28 during this period, mainly due to the deterioration in the inner basins of Catalonia and southern Andalucia. For this reason, 12.1% of the peninsula area is in a situation of persistent drought. That is seven-tenths more than in February. 

Especially in need in Catalonia and Andalucia 

In terms of short-term shortages, more than half of the scarcity territorial units (UTE) are in a normal situation (52.9%). 20.2% are in pre-alarm, but 26.9% are in distress (14%) or alarm (12.9%) due to water shortages. This situation is particularly prevalent in the basins of Catalonia, part of Castilla-La Mancha and Andalucia, especially in the delimitations of Guadalquivir and Guadiana. 

Farmland is also suffering in Europe 

The scarcity of rainfall and the rising temperatures not only affect the reservoirs but also the agricultural land. If crops such as wheat and barley are already considered lost in Spain, the situation in the rest of Europe is not much better either. 

Many areas in Mediterranean countries are already experiencing drought in the first ten days of March or are alert to being affected by it. This mainly concerns Spain, France and Northern Italy, but also other countries such as Ireland, the UK, Norway, Sweden and Finland. According to the latest report from the Observatory, the situation could become “critical” in the following months “if the anomaly in spring temperature and rainfall persists”. 

Related post: Spain sentenced to water stress 

(source: RTVE.es, also with maps) 

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