- Kai Hijko
- BBC News, Spain
Workers, with their small boats, try to dredge fish from a reservoir in the Chao region, with the aim of removing the fish before they die, polluting the water and making it unfit for human consumption.
The water level has dropped to a very low level, reaching 10 percent of the reservoir’s capacity, making it muddy.
After dredging out the fish, the authorities intend to divert water from Chow Reservoir to another reservoir.
“The quality is acceptable in the winter, but in the spring it gets very bad, so we try to divert the water as quickly as possible,” says Samuel Reyes, director of the Catalan Water Agency. “We’re trying to dig up all the fish. In the tank.”
The Sau Reservoir is 100 km from the sea in Barcelona. It has supplied the city and other towns in the north-east of Catalonia for half a century. But in recent months it has become a stark sign of the worst drought in the region’s history.
A testament to this is the famous 11th-century church of Sant Roma di Savo, which was flooded when the reservoir was built in 1962.
During heavy rains, the building located in the reservoir was hidden under the surface of the water, but today it stands several meters high, surrounded by earthen mounds.
Because this part of Catalonia has had no continuous rain for two and a half years. By early March, the reservoir’s water level had dropped to 8 percent of its capacity, compared to 55 percent full in the previous year.
“I’ve never seen it so empty,” Augustine Torrent, 70, who has lived in the area all his life, says of the reservoir. He doubts it, and I don’t know what to tell him.”
If the situation in Catalonia is worrying, most of the country is facing difficulties, especially in the south and east. In mid-March, water levels in the Guadalquivir Basin reservoirs in Andalusia reached 26 percent of their capacity, lower than in Catalonia.
Aquifers in the Segura Basin in the southeast reached 36 percent of their capacity, compared to an average of 83 percent in the northwest of the country.
Spain’s meteorological agency announced in March that the entire country is “continuing the drought that started last year.”
Not all droughts are caused by climate change, but higher temperatures in the atmosphere strip more moisture from the Earth and make droughts worse.
The world has warned of a 1.1°C temperature increase since the start of the industrial era, and temperatures are expected to continue to rise unless significant reductions in emissions are made.
European regions such as Catalonia on the Mediterranean Sea face a severe drought risk, says Miguel Manzanares, a meteorologist who monitors intensive weather on the European continent.
Referring to countries like France, Italy, Greece, and the Balkans, he says the Mediterranean region is the most vulnerable to the risks of climate change, saying, “The Mediterranean is a closed ocean, its own atmosphere.”
But there are other factors that make drought conditions worse. For Catalonia, Manzanares believes the matter has to do with the population of Barcelona and its neighboring cities, which has risen to 5.5 million.
The local government imposed new restrictions on water use in the region for washing cars and watering gardens, and reduced water use in the industrial sector by 15 percent.
Among other factors, water is widely used in agriculture, which is 80 percent, so the local government decided to reduce it by 40 percent.
But the new restrictions add to the hardships of farmers like Agustín García Segova, president of the Farmers Union in the Barcelona region, who are already suffering from a lack of rain and unprecedented high temperatures.
“If we stop growing as many crops as we can, production will decrease and there will be food shortages,” he says. “There will be shortages in Spain and abroad, which will be reflected in prices.”
Catalan officials confirm they do not intend to impose further restrictions in the short term. But the arrival of summer and rising temperatures will increase pressure on water resources due to the demands of the tourist season. The government admits it is preparing for the worst.
“The situation is very serious,” says Samuel Reyes of the Catalan Water Agency. “This drought in Catalonia is like a marathon, and the worst thing is that we have been awake not for two years, but for three or four years.”
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The Meteorological Department has said that rain of varying intensity will occur in several governorates in the coming hours