Catalonia’s Water Crisis Hits Historic Lows: Over 6 Million Facing Unprecedented Restrictions

March 22, 2024
2 mins read
Comparison of the large reservoir in Catalonia from March 2023 that shrank to 1 percent of capacity in March 2024. Source: NASA
Comparison of the large reservoir in Catalonia from March 2023 that shrank to 1 percent of capacity in March 2024. Source: NASA

Waste water will be recycled in California as the drought conditions arise, following it, Spain declares drought emergency in its Northeastern region of Catalonia. Following three years of below-average rainfall, Catalonia has declared a drought emergency, extending restrictions to Barcelona, the famous tourist city of Spain. After more than 1,000 days of drought, the Catalan government has formally announced a state of emergency. It has extended water restrictions to Barcelona and the surrounding areas.

The Catalan President, Pere Argones, announced the measures. He said the situation in some areas is the worst in modern history. It is estimated that 500mm of rain needs to fall in Catalonia to make up the deficit. Water reserves have fallen below 16%, a level low enough to trigger the emergency declaration. Measures already in place in the north of the region, including a 20% reduction in agricultural irrigation and a ban on watering public parks, will be extended to Barcelona.

Compared to March 2023, the large reservoir in Catalonia shrank to 1 percent of capacity in March 2024.

From Thursday, residents will be banned from washing their cars and filling up empty swimming pools. More than six million Catalans will be affected across towns and cities, including the capital Barcelona. Anna Casoliva, a baker, told the BBC, “It’s not raining, it’s worrying if you don’t have enough water.” Anna lives and works in Benga, a town high up in the mountains north of Barcelona which has been hit by the drought.

She said, “We need water to make bread – we need water to make the dough, but we need it also at home as well for the washing machine, to shower and so on.” Spain is familiar with dry conditions and other areas of the country are also suffering droughts, including Andalusia in the south and the eastern region of Valencia. However, Catalonia, which borders southern France, is less used to such conditions, forcing officials to consider bringing in water by ship to Barcelona should it run dry. This measure was previously adopted in 2008.

Other initial emergency restrictions will include a sharp reduction in the use of water for crop farming and industry. Supply of water for inhabitants per day also will be capped. Town halls can face fines for flouting these limits. There is scope for the restrictions to be increased further. The impact of the drought is all too visible, just a few kilometers away from Bergamot. The La Baellas reservoir, along with others in the Ter-Llobregat basin system, provides water for Barcelona and dozens of surrounding towns.

It’s currently filled far below capacity, with its parched banks exposed. Anna Banadas, Secretary for climate action in the Catalan government told the BBC, “Barcelona and its surroundings are home to five of six million people and that population density makes it a very vulnerable area.” She said, “We realize the state of emergency affects all sectors, it affects the whole population and so it means, in this case, introducing major restrictions.“

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The Catalan government believes that climate change is the cause of the drought. Barcelona’s status as Spain’s top tourist destination raises the question as to how it would handle the high season if the drought were to continue into the summer. More than 12 million people visited the city in 2023. Marta Domenechi Tomas, director General of tourism for the government of Catalonia told the BBC that 2024 could see even more visitors.

She said that the region was “really well prepared” to receive tourists despite the drought and that the industry was making adjustments to adapt to the shortage of water. Hotels have been taking measures which range from informing guests about the need for careful water use, to installing water counters in bathrooms and encouraging guests to reuse sheets and towels. However, the mood among many Catalans is that things will get worse before they get better.

The Catalan drought is a warning for India, China, one of the biggest populated countries, where this year saw many regions getting less rainfall. Climate change is here to stay. We have to be always prepared for the worst, though we can hope for the best!

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