Following the driest October so far this century, the total amount of water held in reservoirs at present is 20,920 cubic hectometres, which translates to 37.31% of total capacity at the end of a consistent seven months of dropping levels – the lowest since the first week in November 1994, when they fell to 35.13%, and the most sparse in the 22 years since natural water supplies plummeted to historic lows – reaching 24.81% in November 1995.
The average rainfall for October was 26 litres per square metre – 2.6 centimetres, or about an inch – barely a third of the typical amount seen in what used to be the wettest month of the year, especially in the Mediterranean.
A drought that has been ongoing since around 2013, the last year has been the eighth-worst in 31 years, according to green campaigners Ecologists in Action.
Falling water reserves have been ongoing since 2015 in some rivers, such as the Duero in Castilla y León – which becomes the Douro when it reaches Portugal – the Segura in the southern Alicante-Murcia area, and the Júcar in the province of Valencia and north of Alicante.
Some of the falling water levels are due to ‘a tremendous growth in irrigation in recent years’, says Ecologists in Action spokesman Santiago Martín.
Areas of the mainland needing irrigation in the last 15 years have increased to such an extent that 20% more water is needed for this alone – before even considering the quantities used for on-tap domestic and commercial use – yet in 25 years, the amount of water available has gone down by 20% because of climate change, leaving a deficit of between a third and a half.
The Segura and Júcar Hydrographic Confederations – the water supply and rivers authorities for these two areas – say stocks are sitting at 13.4% and 25.1% of full capacity at the moment, despite at least 28 emergency works being carried out at a cost of €83 million in the Segura, freeing up more than 350 cubic hectometres of water in order to guarantee supply to the entire population and the farming industry.
Ecologists in Action believes part of the problem is ‘lack of forward planning’ on the part of the environment and agriculture ministries, the latter currently headed up by Isabel García Tejerina.
“The ministries should have imposed an irrigation limit this summer,” says Santiago Martín.
“As they did not do so, even the Duero has been affected, which is not normal.”
Other river networks in pre-emergency situations are the Miño-Sil confluence in Galicia, the Guadalquivir in the Sevilla area, the Guadiana and the western Cantabria.
Sra García Tejerina has warned that if rainfall does not improve reservoir levels in the next two months, restrictions on irrigation will be imposed to ‘prioritise domestic supply’.
The photograph shows the La Pedrera swamp, part of the river Segura fluvial network, where the drought has evidently hit hard.