Severe drought in Spain uncovers submerged monuments

A centuries-old church and a huge megalithic complex are among the underwater monuments that have resurfaced in Spain as a severe drought causes water levels in reservoirs to plunge.

Severe drought in Spain uncovers submerged monuments
Drought in Spain. Photo: Aitor De ITURRIA / AFP

After a prolonged dry spell, Spain’s reservoirs – which supply water for cities and farms – are at just under 36 percent capacity, according to environment ministry figures for August.

The receding waters have exposed the ruins of an 11th-century church in the
usually submerged village of Sant Roma de Sau, which was flooded in the 1960s
when a nearby dam was built.

Normally, the church’s bell tower is the only visible sign of the village in the northeastern region of Catalonia.

Drawn by pictures on social media and television reports, crowds of tourists fill the restaurants in the nearby village of Vilanova de Sau.

“It has been years since (water levels) are as low as they are now,” said 45-year-old Nuria Ferrerons during a recent visit to the site.

“We saw it on social media and we said ‘well let’s see how it is’,” she added.

READ ALSO – IN PICTURES: Drought in Spain intensifies as Roman fort uncovered

Two tourists on a canoe paddled through an arch of the church, which is
fenced off to prevent people from getting too close due to the risk the ruins
could collapse.

“Normally you can only see the bell tower,” said Sergi Riera, who came to
see “something that has not been visible for years”.

In Spain’s western Extremadura region, the receding waters of the
Valdecanas reservoir have revealed a prehistoric stone circle on an islet that is normally underwater.

Dubbed the “Spanish Stonehenge”, the circle of dozens of megalithic stones
was discovered by archaeologists in 1926 but the area was flooded in 1963 when
the reservoir was built.

The stones are also drawing tourists, who reach the islet on boats operated
by several private firms.

Officially known as the Dolmen of Guadalperal, the site is believed to date
back to 5000 BC.

“People leave delighted,” said Ruben Argenta, who owns a firm offering guided tours of the stones.

Manuel Mantilla, a sixty-year-old from the southern city of Córdoba, was
visiting with his wife after hearing about the site through the media. “We saw that as a unique opportunity,” he said.

Climate change has left parts of Spain at their driest in more than 1,000 years, and winter rains are expected to diminish further, a study published in July by the Nature Geoscience journal showed.

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Catalonia to impose water restrictions to fight drought

Catalonia's regional government has put 515 municipalities with 6.6 million inhabitants on high alert for drought. Here's what residents should know about water restrictions.

Catalonia to impose water restrictions to fight drought

The lack of rain and high autumn temperatures have meant that several reservoirs in the northeastern region are currently only at 33 percent capacity, resulting in Catalonia facing drought.

The Ter-Llobregat system, the Darnius and the Baodella reservoirs are all affected by the low water levels.

Restrictions on water consumption will be applied across 515 municipalities affecting 6.6 million inhabitants, the councillor for Acció Climàtica (Climate Action), Teresa Jordà, announced on Monday November 21st.  

“Tomorrow (Tuesday, November 22nd) we will declare a drought alert in the Ter-Llobregat basin. There will be 26 counties in alert,” she said in an interview with Ràdio Catalunya.  

According to the Catalan Drought Plan, the Ter-Llobregat system goes into alert when the reservoirs fall below 210 cubic hectometres. This is already happening and this Tuesday, November 22nd the Interdepartmental Drought Commission will meet to declare a drought alert.

The restrictions will come into force when the resolution of the director of the Catalan Water Agency (ACA) is published in the Official Gazette of the Government of Catalunya (DOGC), which is thought to be scheduled for the end of the week.

READ ALSO – IN PICTURES: Drought in Spain intensifies as Roman fort uncovered

What will change?  

When the restrictions have been approved, water consumption will have to be reduced for agricultural, livestock, industrial and recreational uses. Specifically, agricultural consumption must be restricted by 25 percent; for livestock by 10 percent; for industrial uses by 5 percent; for recreational uses involving irrigation by 30 percent and for other recreational uses by 5 percent.

For now, there won’t be any restrictions on the domestic supply of drinking water, but there will be a few limitations on the general public. 

  • You will not be allowed to fill your swimming pool. 
  • There will be restrictions on how much you can use to water your garden.  
  • Those who have a garden are advised to water it every other day and only during the cooler hours to ensure the survival of trees and plants.  
  • You are also not allowed to fill ornamental fountains or clean the streets with water from the general supply.
  • A maximum of 250 litres of water per day per person is set (a five-minute shower uses on average 100 litres).  

Up until now, there were 301 municipalities with water restrictions. These included areas around Llobregat Mitjà, Anoia Gaià, Empordà, the Serralada Transversal, Banyoles, Prades Llaberia and the Fluvià de la Muga, which have all been suffering from drought in recent weeks. Now the Ter-Llobregat system and the Darnius and the Baodella reservoirs have been added.  

The Ter-Llobregat system supplies drinking water to more than 100 municipalities in the Alt Penedès, Anoia, Baix Llobregat, Barcelonès, Garraf, Maresme, La Selva, Vallès Oriental and Vallès Occidental regions, with a population of around five millions of inhabitants.

The Drought Plan has been in place for over a year, as the Ter-Llobregat system was in pre-alert phase since February 2021.  

In these last nine months, the Catalan Agency of Water (ACA) has implemented measures to slow down the decline of water in reservoirs.  

According to Climate Action, the production of desalination plants has been boosted, which have gone from 20 percent to 90 percent of their capacity and have contributed more than 54 cubic hectometres to the system.

This contribution has made it possible to mitigate the decline of water levels in the reservoirs and avoid greater restrictions than currently seen.  

“If today we are at 34 percent of reserves, without the desalination plants we would have stood at 27 percent,” sources from Climate Action have stressed.