The autumn rains have alleviated the ravages of the drought in part of the country, but the situation continues to be worrying in various parts of the south and northeast of the peninsula. In addition to the restrictions on the use of water that have just been extended to the entire metropolitan area of Barcelona, and the harsh reductions for agriculture in the irrigation campaign, the water shortage is causing limitations and even cuts in supply in smaller municipalities, a significant decrease in the generation of hydroelectric power and serious environmental impacts, such as the drying up of wetlands or the death of fish.
According to the bulletin on the country’s water reserves released yesterday by the Ministry for Ecological Transition, the reservoirs currently store 18,444 cubic hectometres (hm³) of water, well below the 28,393 hm³ average for these dates in the past decade. In the last week, the rains have increased the water reserves by 195 hm³. However, the reservoirs are currently at 32.9% of their capacity. The scarcity is particularly noticeable in the internal basins of Catalonia (33.8%) or the Ebro (35.4%), where the water level is much lower than usual; although the most worrying thing is in the Guadiana basin (23%) and, above all, the Guadalquivir basin (18.6%), where its hydrographic confederation acknowledges that the situation “is critical”.
According to Rubén del Campo, spokesman for the State Meteorological Agency (Aemet), “if we talk about Spain in general, autumn is being dry, or even very dry.” From September 1 to today, the precipitation has not reached 73% of normal, that is, a quarter of the rain that usually occurs on average around these dates has been missing. “And of course, we come from a hydrological year 2021-2022 [periodo comprendido entre el 1 de octubre de un año y el 30 de septiembre del siguiente] which was the third least rainy in the historical series”, highlights Del Campo. “This means that the whole of Spain is in a situation of meteorological drought since the end of winter 2021.”
The falling water has alleviated the shortage in areas such as Galicia, the Valencian Community or the Canary Islands. “The case of the Canary Islands is curious, because it had a fairly intense drought situation, but it was resolved in a few days when the tropical storm passed. hermine, that left a lot, a lot of rain”, says the meteorologist. On the other hand, rainfall continues to be expected in the south of the country and the northeast quadrant of the peninsula, where the rainfall deficit is already prolonged. “The meteorological drought in the Guadalquivir basin is long-lasting, the last three years have been very dry,” he stresses.
Meteorological drought occurs when it rains less than expected, but the consequences of this depend a lot on the water consumption in each area. Right now, a good part of the country is already on alert due to the problems in meeting the demands and there are already areas that have gone to the emergency level. Currently, the legislation in force establishes that in case of drought, irrigation of agriculture must first be limited, gradually increasing the restrictions on some uses of the population (such as gardens, car washes or swimming pools) and lastly case, proceed to cut off the supply.
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According to the latest drought report presented in November by the Ministry for Ecological Transition, in the Guadalquivir basin the situation “is worrying” in Córdoba Norte (with 88,000 inhabitants) and Córdoba Occidental (45,000 inhabitants). In addition, “if the unfavorable scenario of low rainfall is maintained, the supply system to Seville would go into Emergency in the summer of 2023.” In the rest of the large systems in the basin, no major problems are foreseen in the short term, but announcements to limit consumption are beginning to become widespread. In this area, the restrictions and supply cuts in 11 towns in the Huelva region of the Sierra de Aracena and Picos de Aroche stand out, as well as in Pedrera and Aguadulce in the Sierra Sur de Sevilla, Guadalcanal in the Sierra Norte de Sevilla, La Carlota (Córdoba) and Arroyo del Ojanco (Jaén).
In this year’s irrigation campaign, progressive reductions of between 40% and 70% of the allocations for irrigation were adopted in the Guadalquivir, and it is expected that these restrictions will be maintained in the short and medium term if abundant amounts are not produced. rainfall. With regard to environmental impacts, the November drought report draws attention to the case of Doñana, where temporary ponds have dried up and 87,500 waterfowl have been recorded, the lowest record in the last 40 years.
In the Guadiana basin, the drought especially affects the Commonwealth of Tentudía (20,460 inhabitants), where the supply of water to second homes is already restricted and time slots or alternative sources of supply have been established for agricultural and livestock farms . In the municipalities of Cumbres de San Bartolomé, Cumbres de en Medio and Cumbres Mayores (2,161 inhabitants), there are nocturnal supply cuts.
On May 18, restrictions on irrigation were agreed in areas of greatest demand in the basin, these being especially severe in the Orellana Irrigable Zone (56,866 hectares). Likewise, as of November 1, the flooded area in the Tablas de Daimiel was 118 hectares, only 6.8% of the total floodable area. According to the latest drought report, as a consequence of the increase in the concentration of nutrients due to the decrease in water reserves and the high temperatures, in the Guadiana basin there have also been episodes of fish mortality in the Vicario and Jabalón (Ciudad Real), Azud de Mérida, Azud de Badajoz, Los Molinos (Hornachos), Puente Ayuda (Portuguese border) and Charca Remondo (Medellín).
Starting this week, restrictions on the use of water will be applied in 550 municipalities of Catalonia between the four provinces (Barcelona, Girona, Lleida and Tarragona), including the entire metropolitan area of Barcelona. The limitations in this community due to the drought mean a 25% reduction in agricultural irrigation, 10% for livestock uses and 5% for industry. In the case of the supply of the population in the houses, it is guaranteed, but limitations have been introduced for watering gardens, filling swimming pools or cleaning streets with drinking water.
In the Ebro basin, the supply of the population in general is considered guaranteed, “even with a worsening of the current conditions”. With the irrigation campaign already finished, the current concern is the recovery of the dammed reserves, starting from a very deficient situation “that could hinder the next irrigation campaign.” In this area, the drought has significantly reduced the generation of hydroelectric power. The low level of the reservoirs even led to the shutdown of the Mequinenza hydroelectric plant, one of the largest in the country, which so far in 2022 has produced 67% less electricity than last year. However, as Endesa, the company that owns it, points out, “in the end, the rainfall in recent weeks has saved this situation there and in other plants that were in the southern part of the peninsula.”
Calatañazor, San Pedro and Aliud are the towns with the greatest problems in terms of lack of water. The lack of rainfall and high temperatures have meant that practically all of the rivers, streams and streams in the Aliste region (Zamora) have stopped running, running out of springs and natural ponds that are supplied with rain. According to the latest drought report, “the situation may worsen in the coming months, as the basin’s reserves are very depleted.”
In Galicia there have been numerous municipalities where there have been problems due to water shortages this summer, which affected some 60,000 inhabitants, but the general situation has improved due to the rains. In October there have been abundant rainfalls in the Miño-Sil demarcation (an average of 190.6 liters per square meter), being a month 32% more humid than the average.
The relationship with climate change
As Rubén del Campo, spokesperson for the State Meteorological Agency (Aemet), points out, although it is very clear that climate change is behind the increase in temperatures in the case of rainfall, it is more difficult to establish a relationship, due to the great variability of rain in Spain from one year to the next. “If we analyze the rainfall in the country from the end of the 19th century to the present, we do not see a very clear trend that we can attribute to climate change,” says the meteorologist. “But if we take the data from the middle of the 20th century, we do notice a drop in rainfall that we could estimate at around 10% in the whole of Spain.” On the other hand, we are also beginning to perceive a lengthening of the periods of drought and more intense torrential rains in some parts of the country. “We can talk about the fact that, in general, it rains the same amount throughout the year, but in shorter periods, therefore it is less usable,” says the meteorologist, who adds that to this we must add the increase in temperatures, which which means more evapotranspiration and, therefore, “less water resources for plants, both in natural ecosystems and in rainfed crops”. That is, more aridity.
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