Record rains in March and April are unable to get the country out of alerts due to water scarcity

The rains, in many record areas, in March and April have been unable to extinguish the multiple alerts due to water shortages to satisfy the high demand installed in Spain.

The combined rainfall for both months on the peninsula has been 155% above the historical average, according to data from the State Meteorological Agency (Aemet). But squeezed reserves combined with a dry fall and winter have made it impossible for the system to recover. The third week of May was at half capacity, 13 points lower than the average of the last five years.

Already in the first week of May, the trend changed: reserves marked a peak and began to decline –very slowly, yes–. At this juncture, the high temperatures, early while the demand for water for agriculture will skyrocket. One of the main threats of climate change in Spain is the irregularity of the rains and the decrease in available water. Add to that the overheating that raises average temperatures and increases severe heat waves.

"Water is the first victim of the climate crisis," analyzed in the Global Commission on the Economy of Water created last week at the OECD. "Droughts, floods and shortages will worsen if there are no urgent responses due to climate change."

So, when the country enters the season of high temperatures and river drought, that is, it walks towards the maximum demand for water, approximately half of the territory remains in different degrees of alert.

Almost the entire Guadalquivir basin maintains the declaration of alert or emergency due to shortage. Not due to meteorological drought, since, for example, rainfall in April was 25% higher than average, which caused the rain data of the hydrological course to go up.

Also in Andalusia, the Guadalete-Barbate basin is almost all in pre-alert or alert. The Andalusian Mediterranean Basin demarcation – which runs from Gibraltar to Almería – has serious problems (emergency level) in the Axarquia region of Malaga (where the cultivation of tropical varieties that are highly water-demanding has multiplied) and Levante de Almeria.

A situation similar to that of the Guadalquivir crosses the basin of another of the great Atlantic rivers of the Iberian Peninsula: the Guadiana. Despite the fact that more than 90% of its territory is free from drought in terms of rainfall, 16 of its 21 territories have scarcity problems, according to the latest situation report from the Confederation: five are in emergency, four are on alert and the rest on alert.

In the Segura basin, also in the southeast, a record spring in terms of rainfall has not been enough for the entire demarcation to be in a normal situation. The rainfall in March and April has been the heaviest in 62 years, according to the Aemet, but half of the demarcation is still on pre-alert.

Is the north saved? Not entirely. All Galicia-coast is in pre-alert. In the Miño-Sil demarcation, which does have rain problems, more than half have some degree of scarcity. On the northeast slope, more than three quarters of the Internal Basins of Catalonia present pre-alert or alert.

The overview is completed by the Tajo-Segura transfer system, which this month has entered an exceptional situation, level 3 of four, which no longer allows automatic pumping but must be authorized month by month by reviewing the situation.

So in Spain an image of less available water, more heat and more thirst is drawn. The hydrographic confederations that manage water resources have decided in their unloading commissions how much liquid they will be able to dedicate this summer to the main water consumption: irrigation. In the Guadalquivir, for example, they have had to reduce the available water by 70% per hectare compared to the theoretical permits.

"We are rapidly changing the hydrological cycle due to the climate crisis and the degradation of ecosystems," said Johan Rockström, deputy director of the Potsdam Institute for the study of the impacts of climate change. "Extreme events related to water are becoming more intense and frequent, which, combined with rapidly growing demands on supply, make current policies obsolete."

In this sense, the Secretary of State for the Environment, Hugo Morán, maintains that "either we anticipate the measures to adapt to climate change or climate change will leave us without time to adapt. Either we resize irrigation or we will not have water to irrigate."

Because this summer the amount of liquid available, in general terms, is well below normal in many areas that now plan to open the floodgates to irrigate. Added to this is the fact that, the higher the heat, the crops demand greater consumption. An April 2022 California Public Policy Institute study has calculated how much more: "We estimate that with temperatures some two degrees Celsius above the 20th century average, the demand for water from crops has increased by 8%."

In this sense, and to corroborate the conclusions of the Americans, during the heat wave in Spain in August 2018, the Alto Aragón irrigation community calculated that its demand grew by 15% in seven days of unusually high temperatures. The European Environment Agency has already warned for years that the demand for water from crops has increased "due to climate change", which leads to "a greater water deficit" in "large areas of eastern and southern Europe ". "Spain has the greatest net need for water for irrigation in the European Union," he concluded.

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