End of water sports tourism for large Spanish reservoir in the Pyrenees

by Lorraine Williamson
watersports tourism

PROVINCIA DE HUESCA – Seven companies that were active around the reservoir Canelles in the province of Huesca had to close their doors because of the low water level. This also has far-reaching consequences for other companies in the area. 

The reservoir of Canelles is the largest in the Pyrenees and the second largest in the Ebro basin. The drought of recent years has caused water sports tourism in the provinces of Huesca and Lérida to come to a standstill. 

The nearby villages are concerned about the prolonged drought the reservoir is suffering from, due to the lack of snow on the mountaintops in recent winters. The reservoir has a capacity of 680 cubic hectometres. However, it is at 14% this week and should be at least 55% to guarantee navigation. 

Joan Pascual is responsible for one of the outdoor companies that were active around the reservoir. He had forty employees and deeply regrets it: “You put down a kayak and it hits the ground, there’s nothing you can do about it”. 

Three years of water level decline 

Jorge Pique is the mayor of Viacampo, one of the nearby municipalities to the reservoir, and says in El País: “We have had a decrease in water levels for 3 years in a row now and this year it was the most noticeable. For all the activities that the companies organised at the reservoir, there is now nothing left”. 

Furthermore, the recent summer rainfall has not improved the situation, according to Joan Pascual. “It is mainly the capacity of this reservoir that is affected. Normally it is filled by the snowfall on the mountain tops and we need 3 good winters with a lot of snowfall”. 

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Thousands of athletes per day in the summer 

Tourism at the reservoir was active for six months of the year. The summer was the peak with almost 1,000 visitors per day. Joan’s company alone had 300 kayaks in operation, in addition to catamarans and tourist boats. A completely different situation than now. “We have stored all the boats, the employees are out of work and everyone has had to look elsewhere for work”. 


Despite the consequences, the companies feel abandoned by the authorities, as Viacamp’s mayor acknowledges. They feel “left to their own devices” and “sold”, feeling that the government has let them down despite the problems they have been experiencing for several years. 

Failed or small harvests 

The drought in the area not only affects tourism but also crops, as the mayor of Viacamp points out: “Farmers are facing ridiculously small harvests or even no crops at all”. Canelles tops the list of reservoirs with the least water in the Ebro basin. 

Water reserves 

The average water reserve in all of Spain, according to data from Embalses.net, is at 45.75%. Of all the autonomous regions, Andalucia is in the worst shape with 25.37%. Castilla La Mancha and Murcia follow with 35.52% and 36.49% respectively. Only the northwest of Spain has nothing to worry about at the moment. Moreover, the reservoirs in eastern Cantabria are even more than 91% full. 

Also read: Drying rivers also affect business in tourism water sport activities 

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