A drought aggravated by climate change extends water restrictions throughout Spain

Spain is thirsty. resected by unusual temperatures and months of scarce rainfall, water restrictions of different kinds reach the population. Drought, exacerbated by extreme heat caused by climate change, is hammering on water resources already diminished by intensive consumption.

In the last three months it has rained 46% less than the average (in July the drop was around 70%), according to the National Hydrological Bulletin. The lack of rain has caught the exhausted reservoirs: the water reserves are now at 40%. Since they marked their peak of the course on May 10 (at 50% and very far from the average for the decade and five years) they have not stopped plummeting.

In Andalusia, Extremadura, Catalonia, the Balearic Islands, Navarra, Euskadi, Galicia or Castilla y León, prohibitions have had to be established. "Spain presents a high interannual variability of precipitation, which causes numerous episodes of meteorological drought to occur", explains the Aemet. What happens is that the natural variability of these phenomena "is being modified by climate change”.

Cuts in the tap (at night) have already been established in the Sierra del Segura de Jaén (Arroyo del Ojanco) and in 14 municipalities of the Sierra de Huelva while in the Axarquia of Malaga they have asked to cut consumption by 20%.

In the north of Córdoba, the 80,000 residents of the Guadiato and Los Pedroches regions watch how the Sierra Boyera reservoir evaporates by leaps and bounds despite the reduction in the volume received by the municipalities. The Seville City Council has approved the purchase of water from a community of irrigators in anticipation that no rain will arrive in order to maintain the city's supply.

Water restrictions don't come all at once. They are scaled according to an order of priorities that marks the Water Law. The supply to the populations is the last frontier and when they reach that level it is that the recreational, industrial and irrigation use have been crossed

In Extremadura they have been with restrictions for weeks. In the north of Cáceres, the Provincial Council has had to send tankers to supply some towns. In the south of Badajoz, in the region of Tentudía, the municipalities approved limiting the consumption of agriculture and second homes, but they fear that the cuts will arrive before the end of the summer despite having resorted to groundwater.

Last week the mayor of Maó (Menorca), Héctor Pons, admitted that they are going through a "critical" situation and that he will not be able to ensure the water supply now that the population is growing due to the tourist season.

Opposite, in Catalonia, 350,000 people have seen their consumption limited to 250 liters a day, although the Generalitat affirms that the average use per capita is 134 litres. 150 municipalities are on hydrological alert (level 3 of 5), especially those that depend on rainwater. 30 of them are under restrictions. This Wednesday, the Generalitat announced that it plans water cuts even in Barcelona for September.

How does the climate crisis influence Spanish droughts? In general, it rains a little less. And, in addition, it is much hotter, which means that more water go into the atmosphere by evapotranspiration: almost three quarters of what it rains goes into the atmosphere either evaporated or transpired by plants after using a portion of what they absorb for their operation.

“The annual rainfall in Spain shows a downward trend in the period analyzed: 1961-2018, reports the Aemet. Other studies have detected “a 15% decline in rainfall since 1961”.

In addition, this evapotranspiration has grown at a rate of 24.4 mm per decade in that same period "mainly in the summer months". And that has made himhe severity of droughts has increased since 1961 due to rising temperatures. The combination draws a reality in which Spain supports a "clearly warmer and drier" scenario, summarized in the Agency.

So the OECD (already in 2013) recounted that, in Spain, the "impact of climate change on hydrological systems" has meant that "the frequency of prolonged droughts has increased in the last decades of the 21st century".

On the one hand, climate change makes droughts more recurrent and severe. And on the other hand, the great consumption already established means that “as scarcity intensifies in nearly all watersheds, droughts inflict greater economic and environmental costs”, concluded this research from the University of Zaragoza. They do more damage because the resources of the basins have been pushed to the limit.

In addition, when the heat tightens, human consumption rises. For example, in the Community of Madrid, the public supply management company, the Canal de Isabel II, has registered an increase of 11% in June and 9% in July of 2022.

The lack of rain in a given period of time is inherent to the Mediterranean climate that dominates most of peninsular Spain and the Balearic Islands. However, the Spain associated with humidity and green is not being spared this year.

In Galicia, the Lérez River flows almost dry – its flow fell by 73% in 20 days – which has caused restrictions in Pontevedra, Marín, Sanxenxo, Bueu, Poio and Ponte Caldelas, in the midst of the high tourist season. To avoid nighttime water cuts, a range of uses have been banned, but the Pontillón de Castro reservoir has enough water for two weeks.

A little further east, in Navarra and the Basque Country –especially in Bizkaia– water managers have asked citizens to consume “rationally” in addition to prohibiting many leisure and washing uses. The Bilbao Bizkaia Water Consortium will transport 2,000 m3 of water per day by boat to Bermeo to guarantee supply in the Busturialdea area.

“The challenge is not drought, but scarcity. And the time to deal with it is when it rains”, Gonzalo de la Cámara, coordinator of Water Economy at the Madrid Institute for Advanced Studies, told elDiario.es, when the super copious rainfall of March and April camouflaged the lack of reserves.

Meanwhile, in the Canary Islands they are preparing for the impact: Fuerteventura, El Hierro and La Gomera have declared a water emergency in recent weeks.

At the bottom of all of this trend, scientific analyzes glimpse “a significant risk of megadroughts lasting 15 years at the end of the 21st century”. It is true that it is a long-term forecast, but so were those that warned of the increase in heat on the planet more than four decades ago.

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Report prepared with information from: Sandra Vicente, Angy Galvín, Alfonso Alba Santiago Manchado, Iker Rioja, Dácil Jiménez, Javier Ayuso and Daniel Salgado

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