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It’s not (just) a drought: how we ended up turning off the water tap

Only twelve months ago, water reserves in Spain were 44%. In a year of normal rainfall — the average for the past 40 years — reservoirs were shrinking until they were at their lowest levels in a decade. Twelve months later, due to the failure of normal precipitation and unable to recover as a result of intensive consumption, resources have fallen to a century minimum: 39%. The decade average is 58%.

The situation is such that it has called for restrictions, which have already led to the disconnection of the tap in some homes in the city. But how did we get here?

“We are already in a severe water stress scenario, which is the result of a large part of the decisions that have been made in the last two years: to keep the focus on demands with few restrictions”, analyzes the person in charge of WWF. Water Program, Raphael Seize.

When the last hydrological year closed in September 2021, Spain blamed massive water consumption for the shortage: after the summer risk campaign, the entire Guadalquivir basin was on alert, although no system declared a drought. Three-quarters of the Guadiana basin was also in a similar condition.

“We have not been brave and far-sighted – no matter how hard it was politically – to save water and limit its use more decisively when the situation already indicated that it would be difficult,” adds Seise.

It so happened that in the months when, statistically, reservoirs recover their level after being drained for irrigation (the tourist season also requires more water), it did not rain enough. From October to January, precipitation fell by 25% of the average.

“Although there was a restriction of irrigation in some places and crops, without rain we are now more on the edge. This is not a particularly severe drought, or at least more so than others, but the shortage is due to pressure. resources,” analyzes Jesus Vargas, professor of geography and member of the Citizen Drought Observatory.

The pressure comes mainly from the agricultural sector, especially irrigation. Spain, although dominated by a Mediterranean climate prone to drought and whose Three quarters of the territory is aridIt leads the area dedicated to irrigated crops in Europe.

According to the surface survey of the Ministry of Agriculture, about 3.8 million hectares are devoted to these crops. From 2004 to 2021, it grew by half a million hectares, a jump of 15%. And all this land requires water to produce.

Just in the autumn quarter, when the dry weeks were chained when they should have been the wettest, the government’s new hydrological planning was responded to by the most intensive users, the irrigators. The calculation of the Ministry of Ecological Transition, that by 2050 we will have to use 5% to 15% less water and increase the minimum costs of flowing into rivers, did not suit them. “This is radical environmentalism,” settled the National Federation of Irrigators, Fenacor.

Fenacore’s formula is designed to do the job to meet its demands as much as possible of water. “Regulation is fundamental,” they maintain. “Construction of new reservoirs is necessary for better protection against drought. It stores water if it rains. They also called for the legalization of “drought wells,” which are perforations in aquifers and irrigation ponds to store fluid “in times of scarcity.”

As the year went on and the winter continued, the situation worsened: the Asaja Employers’ Association and other agrarian organizations demanded government aid for the drought. Agriculture signed the ordinance in mid-March of this year with the measures set in motion during weeks of record rainfall. March and April saw a combined rainfall of 155% above the historical average. The drought was forgotten.

Every year, irrigation campaigns in all hydrographic demarcations are accelerated from May with the onset of high temperatures. In that course, the confederates cut back on water for irrigation, but after rains that allayed concerns about scarcity, dry months followed.

“It rained a little, but not too little, and of course it’s not the main reason for the shortage,” insists Rafael Seiz. “I don’t think the administration looked at it differently, but they didn’t make the right decisions either, the benefits were limited, but it wasn’t enough.

Meteorological droughts, i.e. little rain, are a natural phenomenon of the Mediterranean climate. But climate change makes them more frequent and, above all, more severe. At higher temperatures, such as the extreme and very persistent heat that dominates since May, greater evaporation of water occurs: between 1940 and 2005, the equivalent of 68% of rain entered the atmosphere, evaporated or converted by plants. And this phenomenon has worsened over the decades and worsened the environmental crisis: It grew by 7% per year from 1961 to 2011.

In March last year, when rains were scarce, the irrigators made their position clear: “What needs to be done to reduce the effects of drought on irrigation is to reduce ecological flows as much as possible during this season, even if the water status is affected. bodies. And this water was “used for irrigation to somewhat improve the existing scenario”. For Jesús Vargas, the reality is the opposite: “You have to think very carefully about what each drop of water will be used for if the rainy situation doesn’t improve.” “This teaches us more than ever that we need to be careful with our water use and that part of adapting to climate change necessarily involves reducing water use, especially in agriculture,” concludes Rafael Seiz.

Source: El Diario





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