Drought-stricken Spanish villages in crisis mode for several months

Numerous residents residing in rural areas relying on depleting wells are encountering challenges accessing consumable water.

Driven by drought, Joan Torrent treks into the woods with empty jugs to collect water from a natural spring. He hauls them back to his home in Gualba, a village near Barcelona suffering the brunt of Spain’s record drought.

While lugging 8-liter jugs for water a few times a week is a minor inconvenience for Torrent now, it could become a more frequent reality as Spain and the Mediterranean grapple with climate change.

Joan Torrent, a 64-year-old resident of Gualba, laments the disappearance of the village’s many springs, fearing this may be the last one. He worries about the future water situation, highlighting a general resistance to acknowledging potential water scarcity.

Catalonia faces water crisis, officials declare drought emergency

Catalonia in northeastern Spain faces a severe water shortage. Officials declared a drought emergency as reservoirs supplying millions, including Barcelona, dipped to record lows of less than 16% capacity.

Catalonia’s drought emergency, restricts daily water use for homes and public services to 200 liters per person. This is still more than the average resident’s daily consumption of 116 liters, according to the region’s water agency.

Catalonia’s president, Pere Aragonès, acknowledged a “new climate reality” when declaring the drought emergency. He warned of a likely future with more frequent and severe droughts.

Unlike Barcelona with its minor restrictions, Catalonia’s rural areas have been in crisis for months. Towns like Gualba, dependent on wells that have dried up, are struggling to access clean drinking water, highlighting the drought’s harsher impact on smaller communities.

The village of Gualba, named for its once-abundant “white water” streams, has faced a water crisis since December. With the local reservoir depleted, its 1,500 residents have been relying on water unfit for drinking for months.

With limited access to clean water, Gualba residents now rely on bottled water from neighboring towns. Deputy Mayor Jordi Esmaindia expressed disbelief at the situation, highlighting the village’s history of plentiful water.

Behind Spain’s record-breaking drought

Spain faces a worsening drought after three years of scarce rain and scorching temperatures. Climate change is expected to intensify these conditions, with the Mediterranean predicted to heat up even faster than other regions.

Catalonia’s drought is severe. Reservoirs in northern Catalonia, typically at 70% capacity, have plunged to a critical 15.8%. This water scarcity is only surpassed by southern Andalusia’s Guadalete-Barbate basin, sitting at an even lower 14.6% capacity. Both regions face similar water shortages and restrictions.

Despite relying heavily on desalination plants (accounting for 55% of water use in Catalonia), Barcelona is considering importing drinking water. This highlights the severity of the drought, as even regions with advanced water treatment systems are facing shortages. Southern Andalusia is also exploring similar options.:

Catalan authorities in Barcelona are cracking down on water misuse. Municipalities face fines if residents, farmers, and businesses fail to comply with restrictions. Additionally, water bills may increase to fund essential pipe upgrades.

Laura Vilagrà, a Catalan government official, told Spanish radio that some areas lose up to 80% of water through leaks, calling it unsustainable.

Limitations to water usage

Water experts predict rural areas will bear the brunt of the drought. Restrictions have severely impacted agriculture, cutting water for livestock by half and irrigation by 80%. This poses a significant threat to the rural economy.

A Catalan water rights group, Aigua és Vida (Water Is Life), criticizes the media focus on Barcelona’s drought. Their spokesperson, Dante Maschio, highlights the plight of villages in the Pyrenees that have faced water shortages for months, requiring trucked-in supplies, while Barcelona’s situation receives more attention.

Water rights advocate Dante Maschio (Aigua és Vida) warns of potential inequality and tension between cities and rural areas if the drought isn’t handled fairly. He emphasizes the need for balanced solutions.

While many Catalan towns rely on expensive water deliveries by trucks, the regional government has allocated €4 million (part of a larger €191 million drought relief package) to help 213 municipalities offset these transportation costs.

Some towns, like Espluga de Francolí, face even harsher measures. They’ve implemented daily shutoffs from 8 pm to 10 am to allow their depleted wells to recharge overnight.

Vallirana, a town of 15,000 near Barcelona, has been struggling for months. Mayor Eva Martínez describes periods where residents rely on trucked-in water delivered to neighborhoods, forcing them to collect it in containers.

Vallirana’s Mayor, Eva Martínez, acknowledges residents’ frustration with water shortages and limited access to high-quality water. She emphasizes the dire situation, highlighting the lack of rain.

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