MADRID – Spain, known for its sunny climate and vibrant coastal areas that attract millions of tourists every year, is struggling with a significant water shortage. This also has consequences for the large number of swimming pools in the country.
According to the latest data from the Land Registry, there are 1.3 million swimming pools in Spain. That amounts to about one artificial swimming zone per 36 inhabitants. These pools are mainly found in the southern part of the peninsula, along the coast, in the Balearic Islands and around major cities. Moreover, this number does not include the large plastic (demountable or inflatable) swimming pools that are for sale at stores such as Decathlon or Leroy Merlin.
The municipality of El Casar de Escalona in Toledo, just over an hour from Madrid, has one of the highest concentrations of swimming pools in Spain. With 74 swimming pools per 100 inhabitants, this small town of less than 2,000 inhabitants is home to an impressive number of swimming pools.
A similar trend can be seen in several tourist towns along the Cabo de San Antonio in the province of Alicante. Coastal towns such as Teulada, Benissa and Jávea each have more than 30 swimming pools per 100 registered inhabitants.
As Spain faces a particularly hot summer, swimming pools are taking on a new meaning in the face of water shortages. Mapping the distribution of swimming pools in areas with water shortages, as defined by the Ministry of Ecological Transition (Miteco), reveals worrying patterns.
Regions such as the northeastern Balearic Islands and the basin of the Alberche River in the Tagus basin, with respectively 9 and 17 swimming pools per 100 inhabitants, stand out as areas of interest.
However, it is the 78 territorial units with water shortages that have a high concentration of swimming pools that are of particular concern. In these areas, characterised by an alarm or emergency of water shortage, there is now a shortage of water in artificial swimming areas.
More than 2,000 municipalities in areas with water shortages
As more than 2,000 municipalities in Spain are located in water-stressed areas, the magnitude of the problem becomes clear. In addition, another thousand municipalities are already on alert due to water shortages.
Half a million swimming pools hit
According to Miteco’s water shortage maps, there are about half a million public and private swimming pools, both indoor and outdoor, in these regions collectively. Alarmingly, 38% of Spain’s 1.3 million swimming pools are located in areas that are currently on alert or in an emergency due to water shortage.
The scarcity of water has a major impact on certain regions in Spain. In the east of the province of Almeria, water shortages have risen to an emergency, with six swimming pools per hundred inhabitants. In this area, where about 162,000 people live, there are no fewer than 10,000 artificial swimming areas.
Similarly, the Guadalquivir River Basin, where reservoirs are currently only 23.5% full, has five sub-basins facing a water shortage emergency. The water scarcity territorial unit of Martín Gonzalo in Cordoba is particularly concerning.
The concentration of swimming pools in municipalities such as Lora de Estepa and Castilblanco de los Arroyos in Seville, Los Villares and La Guardia in Jaén, and Brazatortas in Ciudad Real far exceeds the number of swimming pools in Martín Gonzalo. These places are part of the General Regulation of the Guadalquivir River. They are currently in a water shortage emergency and have more than 20 swimming pools per hundred inhabitants.
Basin of the Guadiana: worrying
Another region of concern is the Guadiana River basin, where there is a significant concentration of pools around the Gasset and Torre de Abraham reservoirs. With water reserves of about 30% and less than 20% respectively, municipalities such as Fernán Caballero and Picón have 183 and 87 swimming pools per hundred inhabitants respectively.
Water use restrictions in Catalonia
Catalonia also suffers from water shortages, especially in 579 municipalities spread over eleven sub-areas within the Internal Basins of Catalonia. These areas are currently in exceptional condition, which entails strict restrictions on water use.
In Torrent, Girona, where there are 82 swimming pools for only 166 inhabitants, it is forbidden to fill private swimming pools for individual or family use. Only newly built or renovated public swimming areas may be filled.
The Fluvià-Muga aquifer sub-area in Girona has the highest concentration of swimming pools, with one pool for every 12 people. Vilopriu, Castelló d’Empúries, Palau-Saverdera and Port de la Selva have rates of 34, 24, 22 and 21 pools per hundred inhabitants respectively.
In the three regions of Catalonia currently on drought alert, Vespella de Gaià in Tarragona stands out with a rate of 42 swimming pools per hundred people. The drought action plan in this area allows newly built or renovated pools to be fully filled, and pools with water recirculation systems to be partially and appropriately filled.
Public versus private swimming pools
The sustainable use of water resources during periods of drought is essential. While public pools can be important amenities during heat waves, the proliferation of private pools, particularly in areas already experiencing water shortages, requires a thoughtful approach to water management and conservation.