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CLIMATE CRISIS

Drought: Where in Spain are there limits on water usage?

With extreme temperatures, little rain, and low water reserves, many regions across Spain are limiting water usage.

Drought: Where in Spain are there limits on water usage?
A woman drinks water in a park in central Madrid during a heatwave on August 2, 2022. Photo: THOMAS COEX/AFP

A lack of rain, prolonged periods of record-breaking heat and dwindling water reserves have forced several Spanish regions to limit water usage.

According to recent research published in July by the journal Nature Geoscience, Spain is suffering its driest climate for at least 1,200 years caused by an atmospheric high-pressure system driven by climate change.

This has been especially pronounced in the regions of Galicia, Catalonia and Andalusia, where reservoir reserves are at or below 40 percent of their capacity.

Jaén, in Andalusia, for example, was a region that used to get around 800 litres (210 gallons) of rainfall per square metre, but is set to get around half that amount this year.

During Spain’s two heatwaves this summer, temperatures surpassing 40C spread across the country, affecting even the northernmost areas such as Galicia and Asturias, with the mercury touching 45C in the south, and killing over a thousand people.

READ MORE: How drought is threatening Spain’s ‘green gold’ harvest

As a result, many autonomous communities across the country have introduced water restrictions.

Cutting off showers on beaches, banning the watering of gardens and washing cars are just some of the measures in place.

But where exactly are the restrictions in place, and what are they?

Catalonia

The Generalitat of Catalonia has limited personal water consumption in 150 municipalities to 200 litres per person per day, with reservoirs in the region at 43 percent of their capacity, according to figures from the end of July.

President of the Generalitat, Pere Aragonès, has asked people to “use water rationally” and do whatever they can “to avoid aggravating the effects of the drought”. 

Galicia

In Galicia, one of the regions of Spain most affected by drought and wildfires, the Pontevedra municipalities of Poio, Sanxenxo, Marín, Bueu and Pontecaldelas are preparing for night outages of water supply.

Local mayors have also banned showers on the beaches, the filling of swimming pools, and are trying to identify leaks in the supply network.

The municipalities of Baltar and Boborás have also banned the use of water to irrigate gardens, orchards and farms, fill swimming pools, and wash cars. Those who ignore the advice could be fined.

Andalusia

In Málaga, the La Viñuela reservoir is at just 12.7 percent of its capacity, and beach showers in Rincón de la Victoria and Vélez-Málaga have been cut off since last August 1.

In Huelva, ten municipalities in the region of Sierra de Aracena and Picos de Aroche are under night supply restrictions.

Extremadura

Over the border in Extremadura, the Badajoz region of Tentudía is most affected. Its reservoir currently only has 0.8 cubic hectometers left in reserves, 16.6 percent of its capacity and half of what it had this time last year.

Across the region, residents are advised no to use water in gardens or for street cleaning, nor to fill swimming pools or wash cars.

Castile and León

Castile and León has introduced irrigation restrictions for agriculture, and banned water games in the historic fountains in the gardens of Royal Palace of San Ildefonso, in the Segovian municipality of La Granja.

In Palencia, municipalities have also banned the filling of private pools, washing cars and garden irrigation.

Canary Islands

At the moment, there are no restrictions in the Canary Islands, although that could change as the archipelago has suffered drought-like conditions for several years.

Castilla-La-Mancha

In Castilla-La Mancha, the Vega del Jabalón reservoir, which supplies drinking water to twelve municipalities, is almost dry for the fourth consecutive year. 

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CLIMATE CRISIS

How heatwaves have battered Spain’s mussel harvests

"There's nothing left here," sighs Javier Franch as he shakes the heavy rope of mussels he's just pulled to the surface in northeastern Spain. They are all dead.

How heatwaves have battered Spain's mussel harvests

With the country hit by a long and brutal heatwave this summer, the water temperature in the Ebro Delta, the main mussels production area of the Spanish Mediterranean, is touching 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit).

And any grower who hasn’t removed their molluscs in time will have lost everything.

But that’s not the worst of it: most of next year’s crop has also died in one of the most intense marine heatwaves in the Spanish Mediterranean.

By the end of July, experts said the western Mediterranean was experiencing an “exceptional” marine heatwave, with persistently hotter-than-normal temperatures posing a threat to the entire marine ecosystem.

“The high temperatures have cut short the season,” says Franch, 46, who has spent almost three decades working for the firm founded by his father, which has seen production fall by a quarter this year.

The relentless sun has heated up the mix of fresh and saltwater along Catalonia’s delicate coastal wetlands where the River Ebro flows into the Mediterranean.

On a scorching summer morning in Deltebre, one of the municipalities of the Delta, the mussel rafts — long wooden structures with ropes attached which can each grow up to 20 kilograms (44 pounds) of mussels — should be teeming with workers hurrying around during the busy season.

But there is hardly any movement.

“We lost the yield that was left, which wasn’t much, because we were working to get ahead so we wouldn’t go through this,” explains Carles Fernandez, who advises the Ebro Delta’s Federation of Mollusc Producers (Fepromodel).

“But the problem is that we’ve lost the young stock for next year and we’ll have quite a high cost overrun.”

Fishermen extract Pacific oysters bunches in a farm structure on the open sea off the coast near Deltebre, south of Tarragona, on August 10th, 2022. (Photo by Pau BARRENA / AFP)

Millions in losses

The heat has wiped out 150 tonnes of commercial mussels and 1,000 tonnes of young stock in the Delta, initial estimates suggest.

And producers are calculating their losses at over one million euros ($1,000,000) given they will now have to buy young molluscs from Italy or Greece for next year.

“When you have a week when temperatures are higher than 28C, there can be some mortality, but this summer it has lasted almost a month and a half,” with peak temperatures of almost 31C, says Fepromodel head Gerardo Bonet.

Normally, the Ebro Delta’s two bays produce around 3,500 tonnes of mussels, and 800 tonnes of oysters, making Catalonia Spain’s second-largest producer, although it remains far behind the output of Galicia, the northwestern region on the colder Atlantic coast.

For years now, the harvest in the Delta has been brought forward, cutting short a season that once ran from April to August.

‘Tropical’ Mediterranean

Hit by coastal erosion and a lack of sediment supply, the rich ecosystem of the Ebro Delta — a biosphere reserve and one of the most important wetlands of the western Mediterranean — is particularly vulnerable to climate change.

And this extreme summer, when Spain endured 42 days of heatwave — a record three times the average over the past decade, the AEMET national forecaster says — has also left its mark below the surface of the water.

“Some marine populations which are unable to cope with temperatures as high as these over a long period of time are going to suffer what we call mass mortality,” says marine biologist Emma Cebrian of the Spanish National Research Council (CISC).

Spanish Mediterranean mussel producer Javier Franch shows dead Mediterranean mussel seeds in a farm structure on the open sea off the coast near Deltebre, south of Tarragona. (Photo by Pau BARRENA / AFP)

“Imagine a forest, it’s like 60 or 80 percent of the trees dying, with the resulting impact on its associated biodiversity,” she says.

The succession of heatwaves on land has generated another at sea which — pending analysis of all the data in November — may turn out to be “the worst” in this area of the Mediterranean since records began in the 1980s.

Although marine heatwaves are not a new phenomenon, they are becoming more extreme with increasingly dire consequences.

“If we compare it with a wildfire, one can have an impact, but if you keep having them, it will probably mean the affected populations are not able to recuperate,” Cebrian said.

Experts say the Mediterranean is becoming “tropicalised”, and mollusc grower Franch is struck by the mounting evidence as his boat glides between empty mussel rafts in a bay without a breath of wind.

He is mulling an increase in his production of oysters, which are more resistant to high temperatures, but which currently represent just 10 percent of his output.

But he hopes it will help ensure his future in a sector that employs 800 people directly or indirectly in the Ebro Delta.

“(The sector) is under threat because climate change is a reality and what we are seeing now will happen again,” he says worriedly.

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