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Will there still be drought restrictions in Spain after all the rain that's fallen?

The Local Spain
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Will there still be drought restrictions in Spain after all the rain that's fallen?
A penitent from the 'Real Hermandad del Santisimo Cristo de las Injurias, Cofradia del Silencio' brotherhood walks along the street after his procession was suspended due to the rain, during Holy Week in Zamora. (Photo by CESAR MANSO / AFP)

After an incredibly rainy Easter helped to refill Spain's dwindling reservoirs, some have started to wonder if drought restrictions planned or already implemented in certain parts of the country will be lifted.


If you were in Spain over Easter, you might've noticed that it was a pretty wet one. In fact, the rain was so bad in some parts of the country that many Holy Week processions had to be cancelled.

For many drought threatened parts of the country, however, notably Andalusia and Catalonia, though this was disappointing from a cultural point of view, it was welcome relief for the parched land and reservoirs.


Around areas of Cádiz, Granada and Málaga, some towns saw over 100 litres of rainfall per square metre in a single day.

In fact, rainfall during Semana Santa this year was more than three times the usual levels around most of the country, according to data from the State Meteorological Agency (Aemet).

READ ALSO: Tenerife to call drought emergency as Spain struggles with water shortages

Water reserve levels in Spanish reservoirs have risen to 63.1 percent of their capacity, 5.3 percent more than the week before. As such, many might now assume that the heavy rain over Easter has alleviated these drought problems, and there's now no need for the restrictions implemented in some parts of Spain.

Is that the case - or will there still be drought restrictions in Spain such as lowering the water pressure from taps, a ban on filling swimming pools and watering gardens?


Known for its scorching summer temperatures, it had been many years since Andalusia had a wet Semana Santa. Though it will take the Andaluces a while to recover from their cancelled processions, many hope that the abnormal rainfall could ease potential water restrictions, at least for a while. In the southern region these have included water pressure restrictions and even overnight cut-offs in some towns.

La Junta de Andalucia has pledged to study its water saving measures once the runoff from the Easter rains is over and the authorities have a better idea of the picture moving forward. The signs seem positive, however: according to data from the Guadalquivir's Automatic Hydrological Information System (SAIH), on 25th March capacity was at 14 percent -- a week later it has exceeded 70 percent thanks to the rain.

However, La Junta had previously announced that, however heavy the rain, restrictions in some parts of the region, as well as works on the water system, would go ahead because the lack of water is "a structural problem." One positive impact of the rains is that Andalusia now seems unlikely to need to ship in (literally) water from elsewhere because the reservoirs could, if managed properly, serve local areas for several years.

The rains have brought "relief" from the serious drought situation in Andalusia, said regional President Juanma Moreno, so that "it will not be necessary to bring in ships loaded with water" this summer. However, he also urged Andalusians to continue to be responsible "in the use and consumption of water."



The other region at major risk of drought is Catalonia, where large swathes of the region had gone as long as three years without significant rainfall and the authorities have already introduced more extensive water saving measures.

Pere Aragonès, head of the Catalan regional government, recently declared a drought emergency after reservoirs in the northeastern region fell below 16 percent of their capacity, the benchmark set by authorities for the implementation of water-saving measures. Restrictions in Barcelona and 201 other municipalities are currently in place, affecting over 6 million people and almost 80 percent of the Catalan population.

READ ALSO: Barcelona to send letters to 24,000 residents who use too much water

Reservoir capacity levels improved somewhat following the Easter washout, but will likely do little to combat the long-term structural drought problems in the region.

The Easter rain helped, but not to the extent it did in Andalusia. According to data from the Catalan Water Agency, on Monday 1st April the reserves in internal basins were at 16.35 percent of their capacity.

Reservoirs in the Ter-Llobregat system now have a total of 103.59 cubic hectometres, pushing it over the lower threshold outlined in the region's Special Drought Plan, which sets the state of emergency at 100 hectometres and below. This does not seem like a significant enough improvement for the government to change course on restrictions.


Is the drought over?

It's true that the Easter downpours in Spain will go some of the way to refilling its dwindling reservoirs and perhaps, in some parts of the country, reduce the need for water restrictions. But this will only be for a short period of time – whether months or years.

Summer will soon be on the way, and if recent summers are anything to go by, they will be scorching hot. So hot, in fact, that they could likely undo some of the welcome relief over Easter with temperatures in the high-40s and likely weeks or months without any rainfall at all.

If anything, the short-term relief of this year’s rainy Easter points to the longer term structural problems that demonstrate the need for water restrictions in some regions. Such strong and sudden downpours (the storms killed four people in northern Spain) are symptoms of climate change and more extreme weather -- of all types, whether rain, wildfires or gale force winds -- that will likely worsen the drought conditions over time.

That's why so many local and regional governments have been trying to implement restrictions, or at least get their residents to think about moderating their consumption. Following the Easter downpours, it seems some restrictions could be relaxed in Andalusia, if anywhere, but is less likely in Catalonia. In recent weeks, the government of Tenerife also declared a “hydraulic emergency” on the island amid the threat of extreme and long-lasting drought in the midland areas of Tenerife and a critical risk of water shortages in the coming months and years. 

The fact that the drought situation around Spain now seems to depend on abnormally heavy rain (described as ‘a miracle’ in the Spanish press) speaks volumes about its severity in the medium to long-term.

READ ALSO: Spain on track for warmest first quarter on record despite Easter downpour


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