MADRID – The persistent drought in Spain has led to an increased risk of water shortages and problems in some areas. Furthermore, the lack of precipitation and extremely high summer temperatures are pushing some regions closer to a “hydrological collapse.”
According to a report by the Catalan Water Agency dated August 9, 2023, 24 municipalities in Catalonia are in a state of drought emergency, 473 in an exceptional state and 90 in a state of alert. The agency states on its website that the most severe drought emergency means reservoirs have fallen below 16%. This leads to limitations in water consumption per inhabitant. In Andalucia, the situation was assessed as “serious” in the latest June drought report.
When does one speak of ‘hydrological collapse’?
Although not strictly a theoretical concept, hydrological collapse can be defined as “a scenario where there is not enough water for the population”. So says Alberto Garrido, director of the water observatory of the Botín Foundation in Newtral.es. The consequence is an absolute scarcity of resources. This shortage first affects agriculture and eventually leads to restrictions on the water supply of the population, as is currently happening in some Catalan and Andalucian areas.
The causes are low rainfall and inadequate water management. There are also too many illegal wells from which people and companies extract water. As Julio Barea, responsible for Greenpeace’s water campaign, points out: “Nothing has been done to manage demand”. He also points to excessive consumption in areas such as Doñana. Erika González, the spokesperson for the Ecologistas en Acción wetlands, sees overexploitation, mainly linked to irrigation and industrial ranching, as an additional factor that increases the risk of a hydrological collapse.
New water management plan is necessary
To prevent a water shortage, Barea advocates improved water management with measures to reduce water consumption. Jorge Olcina, professor of geography at the University of Alicante, believes that only emergency measures apply at the moment. However, he advocates a new long-term water regime that uses unconventional sources such as desalinated water or treated residual water. “Continuing to rely on rain in the context of climate change is a big mistake,” he concludes.
According to Barea, reaching a water collapse makes sense “when you consume more or consumption expectations are much greater than the water you have available.” “We may have climate migrants in our own country in the coming decades,” he concludes.