25th February 2024
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Catalonia in ‘pre-emergency’ drought alert, and may need water shipped in

Over 200 municipalities supplied by Catalonia’s Ter-Llobregat water supply system, with a population of around six million people, officially entered the ‘pre-emergency’ phase of drought alert on Wednesday, with the authorities saying that the city of Barcelona may need to have fresh water shipped in by boat in the coming months.

Tighter water restrictions are now in place across Catalonia, which is suffering its worst drought on record with reservoirs filled to just 18% of their capacity. By comparison, Spain’s reservoirs as a whole are at 43% of their capacity.

Spanish authorities and experts point to the impact of climate change in the increasingly hot and dry weather behind the extended drought in Catalonia.

Barcelona has already been relying on Europe’s largest desalination plant for drinking water, and a sewage treatment and purification plant to make up for the drop in water from wells and rivers.

The new ‘pre-emergency’ alert, which is a transition between the previous ‘exceptionality’ alert and the most serious ’emergency’ alert, allows the Catalan government to impose tougher water conservation measures.  

The daily use per person has now been lowered from 230 to 210 litres of water per day. That includes personal use as well as what town halls use per inhabitant for services. Catalonia’s water agency says that the average person in Catalonia consumes on average 116 litres per day for domestic use.

The irrigation of green areas, both private and public, is prohibited, except for the irrigation of sports fields and the irrigation of trees for their survival. Water limits for use in industry and agriculture have been increased.

There is a reduction of monthly water allowed for irrigation of sports fields from 450 to 200 cubic metres per hectare. This applies to all clubs, even FC Barcelona and Girona, who will have to limit their consumption to comply with the new rule.

The municipalities affected, including the city of Barcelona, are those in Alt Penedès, Anoia, Bages, Baix Empordà, Baix Llobregat, Barcelonès, Berguedà, Garraf, Gironès, Maresme, Selva, Solsonès, Vallès Occidental, and Vallès Oriental.

The Ter-Llobregat system is a complex network of water collection, storage and recycling facilities that allow the water from the Ter, Llobregat and Cardener rivers to reach household taps with optimal quality for human consumption.

If water reserves fall below 16% capacity, then Catalonia would enter into a full-blown drought ’emergency’, whereby water would be limited to 200 litres per person, and then potentially dropped down to 160 litres per person, and all irrigation in agriculture would require previous approval.

Authorities have warned that the drought ’emergency’ could just be weeks away, unless it rains a great deal.

If not, then Barcelona could need tankers to bring in drinking water. In 2008, that extremely expensive measure was used to keep the city supplied during a drought.

‘Unfortunately, we have to be prepared for every scenario, and we are close to needing boats to bring in water if the situation that we have seen over the past months continues,’ Catalonia regional president Pere Aragonès said during a trip to South Korea on Wednesday.

Aragonès said that his administration was working with Spain’s ministry for the ecological transition to prepare for the eventuality of the water tankers. He added that his administration would prefer to bring in water for southern Catalonia where the Ebro River meets the Mediterranean Sea.

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