Oblivious to its own water vulnerability, Spain drinks its water rapidly. Despite the fact that this course, from October to June, it is raining normally, the water reserve has fallen below that of last year, two years ago, three years ago, the average for five years and that of the decade.
The Government will set a minimum flow in the Tagus River to preserve its ecosystems
The panorama described by the data is as follows: 565 mm of rain have accumulated in the last nine months. That is slightly above the historical average of 555 mm, according to AEMET data. But, at the same time, the hydraulic reserve is at 53% of its capacity. Last year at this time it exceeded 61%, which is also the average of the last five years. The average for the decade rises to 67%.
The bottom line is that water consumption wastes resources at a carefree pace. “The indicators show that there is no meteorological drought and, however, the warnings for water shortages are going red: there is a management problem”, observes Jesús Vargas, researcher and expert in water governance at the Pablo Olavide University of Seville .
“The point is that when there have been dry years, no measures have been started and, when a good year arrives, the courses have accumulated with the use of water without precaution. In the end, as some basins have been squeezed, despite the fact that the rainfall data is not bad, the reserve levels are “. Vargas speaks from the Guadalquivir Demarcation, whose reservoirs have fallen to 35% of their capacity. The main regulatory system of the Confederation is on alert for water shortages.
A glaring example of this contradiction is this past June. The month was “very humid”, in fact, the second rainiest June of the 21st century, as found by the AEMET. It rained 147% more than the historical average. In contrast, the month started with reservoirs at 59.2% reserves. It ended with 55.4%. “It is when the irrigation season has started and when it rains less in general,” explains Vargas, who warns that “how water is managed now will determine how the situation will be in the future: drought is risk management, that is to say, of uncertainty “. And he asks himself: “Does caution prevail?”
Because this year is not dry and 2019-2020 either. But 2018-2019 was well below average. The general trend is that annual contributions in recent decades have been downward. And in the context of the climate crisis, the most solid forecasts suggest that, in Spain, there will be between 3 and 7% less water available throughout the century, which advises reducing consumption by between 5 and 15% .
The most recent analysis of the impacts of climate change in Spain from the Ministry of Ecological Transition, of 2021, insists that “a general trend of decrease in humidity and increase in potential evapotranspiration is foreseeable. A general increase in the intensity and magnitude of meteorological and hydrological droughts is expected.” And then he concludes: “In general, considerable repercussions are expected in the hydrological cycle, the consequence of which will be the decrease in the availability of water and its quality.”
The growing scarcity is taken for granted. So much so that the rights to use a certain amount for a time have become a publicly traded asset. If the stock market has already set its eyes on this matter, it is because “it provides information on a scarce resource” that will be scarcer in the future, the water economist Gonzalo de la Cámara explained to elDiario.es before the launch of a New Wall Street Aquatic Index called NQH20.
Squeeze the demand
Meanwhile, in Spain, the demands are tightening as the current situation illustrates. In March 2021, stored resources were close to all-time highs for that time of year. Since then, the reserve has fallen to last place since at least 2017 and below historical averages. A full-blown hydrological crash.
Spanish water consumption in 2018 (latest data available at the INE) was 18,683 hm3 compared to 18,148 in 2016. 82.9% was for the agricultural sector. Consumption in agriculture was 15,495 hm3, that is, 3.7% more than in 2016. The consumption of households, economic sectors, municipal and others in 2018 was 3,188 hm3.
As the researcher Vargas explained, water in Spain is used up, especially in the summer. And, as reflected in the INE data, especially for irrigation. And this situation is on the rise. In the last decade, the irrigated area has grown by 13.5% in Spain. Currently it reaches 3.8 million hectares, according to the Survey on Crop Areas and Yields (ESYRCE) of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, collected in the Report on irrigation in Spain 2020. That is about 450,000 hectares more demanding its water than ten years ago.
The fourth vice president of the Government, Teresa Ribera, has stressed that, in the face of a future in which, in the long term, “a reduction in water availability is expected, past practices that have led us to overexploitation of water cannot continue to be endorsed. the aquifers, the contamination of the water bodies and the deterioration of our rivers “.
However, the main users in volume of water, the irrigators, defend that their sector is crucial when it comes to creating wealth in Spain and, in the face of measures that may imply restriction of the liquid, they create an opposition front. The most recent example is that of the irrigators of the Bajo Guadalquivir who, they explain, constitute crops of “marked social character” to which they associate the maintenance of the “rural productive fabric.” They have warned that they need more water because they are about to “run out of irrigation resources” and, they say, if they are not granted, part of the crops “that demand a lot of labor” will be abandoned.
Similar arguments came to the fore from the fruit and vegetable sector that uses the waters of the Tajo-Segura transfer due to the change in the rules of use of the aqueduct and the forecast of maintaining an ecological flow in the Tagus River. “The Government will have us in front,” the irrigators have warned. The draft of the new hydrological plan in Segura attributes to these irrigated areas the equivalent of 38,000 direct jobs.
So, in that situation, the new planning “has not put its hand at all to the issue of irrigation”, analyzes the agronomist and member of Ecologists in Action, Santiago Martín Barajas. Martín Barajas is very critical of what he considers excessive irrigation: “The future plan of the Duero, for example, contemplates an investment by the autonomous communities of 323 million euros for new irrigation”. The document foresees increase the use of water for irrigation by 3.5% by 2027 and 6.5% by 2033. “In the Ebro – Martín Barajas continues – there are about 1,200 million in six years. Only with those two we are already loaded: to stop the irrigation nothing “.
In contrast, the agricultural sector claims that it has been reconverted to a much more efficient advanced drip technology: “Significant investments have been made in modernizing irrigation, more efficient systems are used to control the volume consumed”, they described in the Bajo Guadalquivir a few days ago when it came to claiming more water.
Really, the drip irrigation is already the most widespread in Spain: It represents 40% of the volume used compared to 33% by gravity and 26% by spraying. However, conversion to this technique has not resulted in overall water savings. On the contrary, it is being used more and more despite the warnings that there will be less.