Spain enters summer with little water reserve in reservoirs

by Lorraine Williamson
water restrictions Andalucia

MADRID – The past weekend was a harbinger of the summer to come. Scorching heat with maximum temperatures above 40 degrees. Consequently, the start of a summer season in which water will once again be more than a scarce commodity. Meanwhile, there is already little water in the reservoirs.

The water reservoirs are on average at 49% of their capacity. That is 20 points less than the average for this time of the last decade. Moreover, the situation in Andalucia is extremely serious. Here the reserves are only 35% of their capacity. 

According to data provided this week by the Ministry of Ecological Transition, Spain’s reservoirs currently have 48.97% of their capacity, with 27,849 cubic hectometres collected. The figure for this week of the year is 20% lower than the average of the last ten years (69.25%). Furthermore, exactly one year ago, the reservoirs stood at 58.96%. 

Major differences per region 

The degree of severity strongly depends on which hydrographic basin is being viewed. The best are La Rioja (89.47%), Basque Country (85.71%), Navarra (85.71%), and Cantabria (76.87%), all in the north. At the other extreme we find Castilla-La Mancha (41.42%), Murcia (41.22%), Extremadura (37.53%) and Andalucia (35.25%). 

The dramatic situation in Andalucia 

The Andalucian Autonomous Community is in a dramatic situation. Furthermore, a year ago, the reservoirs stood at 43.49% and the average for the last ten years was 65.26%. That is practically double the current situation. The Guadalquivir Basin is at 30.65% and the Guadiana in Extremadura is at 30.77%. 

Threatening supply problems for the population 

“If there comes a dry autumn, which could very well happen, just like it was last year, there will be supply problems for the population in the southern half of Spain,” said Santiago Barajas of Ecologistas en Acción. “We are on the brink of water collapse. By that, he means there is a possibility that several million people will experience restrictions on access to water.” 70% of water resources in Spain are used for irrigation, some 18,842 cubic hectometres per year. 

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Drought situation occurs after a relatively wet spring 

The expert adds that the most disturbing thing is that this situation is occurring after a spring in which it has rained more than in recent years. According to Aemet data, it rained 223% more in March than the historical normal value for the month. It was the sixth month of March with more rain since 1961. And April fell 104% more than the historic month. 

Excessive consumption 

“The problem lies in the excessive consumption, especially irrigation for agriculture,” says Barajas. In Spain, about four million hectares are dedicated to irrigation and 70% of the country’s water resources go there, according to data from the Ministry of Ecological Transition. That equates to about 18,842 cubic hectometres per year. Every cubic hectometre is one billion litres of water. 

Andalucia grows fruit that needs a lot of water 

More than a quarter of the irrigated areas, 1.1 million hectares, corresponding to Andalucia. This partly explains the current state of the reservoirs in the region. “Another reason is that there used to be an irrigation season and now it is irrigated all year round. We also grow fruits that need a lot of water, such as avocados and mangoes,” says Santiago Barajas. 

“Irrigation must be curbed” 

“Irrigation must be restricted because we are playing with fire. Reservoirs are choked and we cannot normally assume that they are 20 points below their average capacity,” added the activist from Ecologistas en Acción. “The main environmental problem in Spain is the intensification of agriculture”. 

Also read: Drought means little water in reservoirs in almost all of Spain

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