La Viñuela reservoir in the province of Málaga is drying up

by Lorraine Williamson
La Viñuela

VéLEZ-MáLAGA – While the north of Spain is struggling with flooding, there is drought in the south. Lack of rain has meant the La Viñuela reservoir, which supplies more than 200,000 people, has almost dried up. 

The hydrological year started on October 1, and since then it has hardly rained in the province of Malaga. There has been no rain in the Axarquía area and the situation calls for urgent measures to ensure human consumption and irrigation. Furthermore, the region has not faced such a drought situation for nearly 20 years. 

Largest water reservoir in region

The Viñuela reservoir is the largest water reservoir in the region and supplies the surrounding agriculture – mainly fruit growing – and 17 municipalities with water. Officially, this reservoir is now in a situation of extreme drought. It does not even reach 18% of its capacity. To alleviate the situation, about 600 litres per square metre must fall into the Axarquía this hydrological year to alleviate the situation. 

Gregorio Campos is vice president of Axaragua, the public water manager of La Viñuela. “The problem is not only the scarcity but also that the water in the reservoir is starting to lose quality. This puts Axaragua in a much more complex, complicated situation.” 

However, the vice president of Axaragua does state that supplies to the population are guaranteed for the time being. Measures have been taken to this end, such as the transfer of 90-100 litres of water per second from the El Limonero reservoir by the public company Emasa from Malaga city. Moreover, water has been siphoned like this for about 10 days. 

On the other hand, the Junta de Andalucía transfers 2.5 to 3 cubic metres of water per year from the Chillar River in Nerja to the Viñuela system. Construction work on these infrastructures is expected to be completed in the first quarter of next year. 

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Irrigation 

For the cultivation of subtropical fruits (avocados, mangoes, papayas, etc.), which generate €900 million per year in the area, the Junta de Andalucía has authorised irrigation with reclaimed water; a system that supplies 9,000 cubic metres per day. 

Irrigation with this type of water is possible thanks to a project that has been experimented with for years. A small plantation in Rincón de la Victoria is irrigated with three types of water: clean water from La Viñuela; treated water that is 50% regenerated and another part that is irrigated exclusively with regenerated water. According to Campos, the outcome of this experiment is that the reclaimed water is ‘perfect’ for the cultivation of subtropical species. 

More crops 

In the high areas of the Axarquía, the olive grove has been most affected by the drought. Despite the fact that water is not provided here by La Viñuela, water is scarce. The crops have not been watered since the end of August because everything is used for the lower-lying fruit orchards. 

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It is not the first time that olive farmers have experienced water scarcity. The current olive harvest started on November 4 and it is forecast to last until the end of March 2022. This harvest will survive, but if it doesn’t rain, the next harvest will be seriously affected, according to Manuel Benítez, president of the cooperative San Isidro Labrador. 

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