Catalonia Declares State of Emergency Amid Record Drought Crisis

To deal with a water shortage, a new rule banned car washing and filling empty pools, starting from Thursday 8th of February. This affects over six million people in Catalonia, including Barcelona, across 200 communities. The reason for the restrictions is that reservoirs are alarmingly low, at around 16% capacity.

Concern is etched on Anna Casòliva Freixe’s face as she peers out her bakery window in drought-stricken Berga. “No rain yet,” she tells the BBC, highlighting the growing anxiety about water scarcity. “For bakers like me, water is essential – for the dough, of course. But at home, it’s just as crucial – laundry, showers, everything relies on it.”

While droughts are common in Spain, affecting regions like Andalusia and Valencia, Catalonia is less accustomed to such dry spells. This has led officials to consider a drastic measure: shipping water to Barcelona, a strategy used in 2008. To conserve water initially, stricter regulations will be implemented, including limitations on agricultural and industrial water use, along with daily water quotas for citizens.

If towns don’t follow the water use limits, they could be penalized. Additionally, the restrictions might become even stricter in the future.

The drought’s severity is undeniable near Berga. La Baells reservoir, a crucial water source for Barcelona and nearby towns (along with others in the Ter-Llobregat system), is suffering significantly.

The La Baells reservoir, which normally holds a lot of water, is now worryingly low, revealing its dry banks. This situation is especially concerning for Barcelona and its surroundings, a densely populated area with millions of residents, according to Anna Barnadas, a climate action official for Catalonia.

Thanks to a water management plan implemented in 2021 by the Catalan government, the region has become less dependent on reservoirs and wells. This foresight allowed for some water use restrictions to be introduced earlier.

According to Ms. Barnadas, these earlier steps helped postpone the need for stricter water restrictions.

Ms. Barnadas acknowledged the hardships of declaring a drought emergency, which impacts everyone in Catalonia and necessitates significant water restrictions. While they prioritized postponing this measure, the situation has become too critical to avoid it.

While attributing the drought solely to climate change requires further investigation, the Catalan government strongly suspects a connection.

Droughts aren’t solely caused by climate change, but hotter air makes them worse. In fact, the UN reports that the Mediterranean is warming 20% faster than the average on Earth, and these increases are likely to continue unless we significantly reduce emissions.

While Barcelona hasn’t been hit as hard as the mountains nearby, the drought’s effects are still present. The city’s decorative fountains have been dry for a year, and watering most public and private gardens is now banned.

Sharing her water-saving efforts like quick showers, Barcelona resident Silvia Martínez expressed concern to the BBC. “I fear these measures might become our new normal,” she said.

With Barcelona being Spain’s top tourist draw, a big concern is how the city would cope with peak summer season if the drought persists. The city welcomed over 12 million visitors in 2023, and tourism director Marta Domènech i Tomàs expects even higher numbers for 2024.

Despite the drought, Marta Domènech i Tomàs assures visitors that Catalonia is well-prepared for tourism. The industry is actively adapting to use water more efficiently.

While hotels are taking steps like informing guests and installing water-saving measures, many Catalans fear the situation will worsen before it improves.

On his way to work in Barcelona, local resident Pep Soler lamented, “This drought feels like something we’ve been warned about for ages, but we haven’t paid much attention. We’ve gotten too comfortable with luxuries that aren’t essential, and now it’s time to cut back on water usage.”

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