It hasn't rained when it was due. And so, when the massive consumption of water arrives each season linked to the irrigation campaign, portends conflict. Precipitation during the wettest months of the course, from October to January, has fallen 25% compared to the average, so the reserves are well below last year and the average for the decade and five years.
The data from the State Meteorological Agency (Aemet) are clear: "This first third of the hydrological year is the eighth driest in the historical series that began in 1961 and the second driest in the 21st century," explains its spokesman Rubén del Campo.
The point is that, now, the water reserve system, squeezed by intensive consumption, has fallen to the lowest of the last decade when the part of the year where it should be replenished the most has closed. "As we have been draining the system for several years, now we find ourselves with few reserves, that is, little capacity to act," says Rafael Seiz, head of the WWF water program.
Just take a look at the color map that illustrates the percentage of accumulated rainfall so far in the hydrological year (which runs from October to September). Large extensions that cover areas in Galicia, Castilla y León, Extremadura or Catalonia oscillate between decreases of 25 and 50% of rainfall. A good part of the provinces of Levante and Andalusia are between 50 and 75% down. In Granada, Almería, Málaga and some islands of the Canary archipelago the collapse is even greater.
And to this is superimposed that the climate crisis exacerbates the irregularity of the rains in a country vulnerable to global warming like Spain. Scientists are verifying how –in the medium and long term, not a specific year– rainfall is scarcer and more torrential.
So, at the beginning of February, the reservoir water does not reach 45% when the average of the last five years is 58% and that of the decade, 59.8%. In April, the irrigation campaign officially begins in the hydrographic confederations, which lasts until September 30. 75% of all water consumption in Spain is dedicated to agriculture.
Seiz explains that "the reservoirs should replace the variations in resources typical of the seasons, but that water has been used almost to the limit in the hope that there would be a copious rainy season that would replenish them and it has not come. In fact, a year more or less normal, like the previous one, it did not work for that and this one is proving drier".
Indeed, the 2020-2021 academic year had rainfall, in general, at the historical average, according to Aemet data compiled in the Hydrological Bulletin of the Ministry of Ecological Transition. And, even so, Spain proved to have been stuck in scarcity, which is the difficulty of meeting the demands for water with the available resources: many areas of the Guadalquivir, Guadiana, Eastern Andalusia or Segura demarcations presented scenarios of pre -alert, alert or emergency due to lack of water for the level of consumption admitted, not due to lack of rain.
So the irrigators of Andalusia (Feragua) already complained at the end of their 2021 campaign that they had been "suffocated", that they had had "50% of the normal water supply" and that they registered a "significant decrease about the crops. Last year at this point, the Guadalquivir, Mediterranean Andalusia and Guadalete-Barbate basins were well above in accumulated water compared to February 2022.
Other irrigators from Levante, the Region of Murcia and Alicante stood up in May 2021 in front of the Ministry of Ecological Transition to protest the new rules for the Tajo-Segura transfer designed so that there are more automatic pumpings in exchange for less volume of water being transferred in regular shipments, not extraordinary ones. Irrigation communities in Alto Guadiana were also angry at the cuts in water supplies in the area. In December, the protests came from Extremadura.
"The omens are fulfilled when it was said: be careful not to rain in the fall because we will have a difficult year," says Jesús Vargas, a water governance researcher at the Pablo de Olavide University in Seville.
Vargas stresses that "in October the risks had ended and it was easier to talk about the need for restrictions because, perhaps, it would end up raining, but today we have the risks just around the corner. It has not rained and the historical series indicates that there will be little water, so they touch measures ".
Rafael Seiz says that "what is being done in the confederations at this time is to distribute who has access to more or less water. Which crops will work better, which could resist with less water and which will not receive. And when that information finally arrives farmers, because conflict can arise".
The Federation of Irrigation Communities of Spain (Fenacore) has made his concern public: "The spring temperatures and the lack of rain mean that the reservoirs are far from the water capacity of previous years. And the expectations are not encouraging."
Of course, the meteorologist Rubén del Campo reinforces this impression since, he calculates, "there is only a 20% chance that the February-March-April quarter will bring more rain than normal, a 30% chance that it will be normal and a 50% % below normal for most of the peninsula. Most likely scenario is drier than normal and also warmer."
The divergence comes when considering which strategy to follow. The irrigators are committed to reinforcing the infrastructures to maintain the maximum available water that they claim against the alternative of adjusting the demand to the possibilities. "There are going to be restrictions because the water does not give. The numbers do not come out to irrigate the entire surface that there is," answers Jesús Vargas from the Guadalquivir demarcation, whose confederation has asked the Government to issue a drought decree with measures.
In any case, the supply for human consumption is the priority of the Water Law, which places this consumption as the first to be guaranteed. "For irrigation, it can be financially compensated, authorizing emergency irrigation for certain crops or for those that entail more jobs," clarifies the researcher.