Villages in Spain’s northeast struggle to keep drinking water flowing during a drought emergency

Villages in Spain’s northeast struggle to keep drinking water flowing during a drought emergency


GUALBA, Spain (AP) — With plastic jugs in hand, Joan Torrent heads into the forest in search of drinking water. He fills them at a natural spring and then drags them back to his house in Gualba, a picturesque town near Barcelona that, like many towns in Spain, is suffering the worst of a record drought.

For Torrent, making this trip in search of water several times a week with the eight-liter jugs is a minor inconvenience, but one that may become more common as Spain and the rest of the Mediterranean adapt to climate change.

“Gualba was full of springs. Now I think it’s the only one left,” says Torrent, a 64-year-old retiree, as he heads to the fountain connected to the spring. “I don’t think we are aware of what awaits us all. of us… People don’t want to hear about lack of water.”

Authorities in the Catalonia region in northeastern Spain declared a drought emergency on Thursdaywith reservoirs serving 6 million people, including the population of Barcelona, ​​​​below 16% of their capacity, a historic low.

The emergency, which goes into effect Friday, limits the daily amount of water allowed for residential and municipal purposes to 200 liters (53 gallons) per person. Catalonia’s water agency says the average resident uses 116 liters (30 gallons) a day at home.

“We are entering a new climate reality,” said the Catalan regional president, Pere Aragonès, when announcing the emergency. “It is more than likely that we will see more droughts that will be more intense and more frequent.”

However, Gualba and other small towns and villages in the Catalan countryside have been in crisis for months. So, while the population of Barcelona has not yet felt the impact of the drought beyond not being able to fill private pools and wash cars, thousands of people living in small communities that depend on wells that are now drying up are experiencing difficulties in obtaining water suitable for consumption.

The name Gualba, according to local tradition, means “white water”, after the streams that flow from the Montseny mountain that overlooks the town. The town of about 1,500 inhabitants has been without drinking water since December, when the local reservoir fell so low that the water became undrinkable and is only good for washing clothes and dishes.

Most residents have to drive to another city to buy bottled water.

“We have always had plenty of water,” said Jordi Esmaindia, deputy mayor of Gualba. “No one imagined we would be like this.”

Spain has had below-average rainfall for three years record temperaturesand conditions are expected to worsen due to climate change, which is expected to warm the Mediterranean area faster than other regions.

Reservoirs fed by the Ter and Llobregat rivers in northern Catalonia have fallen to 15.8% of their capacity, while their 10-year average is 70%. Only the Guadalete-Barbate river basin in southern Andalusia, which faces similar shortages and restrictions, is worse off, at 14.6%.

Barcelona has avoided water shortages thanks to the boost of its expensive desalination and water purification systems, which already account for 55% of the total water consumption in Catalonia. Even so, the regional authorities of Barcelona and Seville, capital of southern Andalusia, are thinking of having drinking water shipped in.

Catalan authorities in Barcelona threaten to fine municipalities if their residents, farmers and businesses do not comply with water restrictions. They are also urging them to increase water bills to pay for pipe modernization.

“Some municipalities lose between 70 and 80% of their water due to leaks,” Catalan government official Laura Vilagrà told Spanish national radio RNE. “That’s not sustainable.”

Water management experts fear that the countryside will continue to be the most affected. The restrictions have reduced water for pigs and other herd animals by 50% and for crop irrigation by 80%, a major blow to the rural economy.

“It’s telling that this drought is making headlines simply because it affects Barcelona… when we have towns in the Pyrenees that have suffered from water shortages and have needed water trucked in for several months,” said Dante Maschio, spokesman for the Catalan Association. nonprofit organization Aigua és vida, or Water Is Life.

“If drought is not managed correctly, it can lead to greater inequality and tension between cities and rural areas,” Maschio said.

Many cities transport water by tanker truck, often at enormous cost. The government of Catalonia has shared 4 million euros ($4.3 million) – out of a total of 191 million euros ($206 million) dedicated to combating drought – among 213 municipalities to help pay for water transportation .

Still, some cities have to turn off the taps, such as Espluga de Francolí, which cuts off the water supply daily from 8 p.m. to 10 a.m. to allow its wells to recover overnight.

Eva Martínez is mayor of Vallirana, a city of 15,000 inhabitants just over half an hour west of Barcelona. For months now, her municipality has had periods in which she has had to bring water in trucks, which park in the neighborhoods for residents to fill bottles and buckets.

“We understand that it is frustrating for citizens when we have problems with water and when we cannot provide water in the quantity and quality that is required,” Martínez said. “We see that it is not raining. The situation is desperate.”


Renata Brito contributed to this report.


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