Spain

How does Catalonia plan to defend itself against drought?

Catalonia is facing the most significant drought in a century. Furthermore, this phenomenon is spreading to other regions of Spain. The prolonged absence of precipitation has caused havoc on water resources and the environment. Although recent rains have brought some relief, they are just a mirage in the face of a crisis that requires medium and long-term solutions. The intervention of experts and government measures are providing the beginning of solutions and a glimmer of hope.

The Catalan government activated the emergency level for 80% of the population in February due to the drought recorded since 1916. The worst in terms of duration, with over three years of impact, intensity, and extent (covering more than 50% of the Catalan territory). The lack of rain, attributable to the Mediterranean climate and exacerbated by climate change, severely affects Catalonia and extends to other regions of Spain.

Like a blessing, the rains of Holy Week arrived after 45 months of nonexistent or below-average precipitation. Despite being moderate, they provide temporary relief by improving the supply of hydrographic basins and offering a respite to the forests and crops.

However, these rains are only a temporary solution to the water crisis, and medium to long-term measures are necessary to address it sustainably. According to the Catalan Water Agency, reservoirs in the inland basins have maintained an upward trend since the beginning of March, although the volume increases have been very slight.

Institutional Response to Drought

The Catalan government is implementing the Special Drought Fighting Plan, with temporary moratoriums on new activities in emergency areas and phased restrictions on water consumption. It is also allocating 128 million euros to municipalities to improve water supply networks. Additionally, it is implementing the Water Management Plan for Catalonia’s inland basins, ensuring water supply, especially in critical areas such as the metropolitan region of Barcelona.

Integrated and Sustainable Management

**Reservoir-de-Vilanova-de-Sau**

To grasp drought in a global manner, projects like intoDBP (Innovate tools disinfection by-products), funded by the European Union, are transforming water management. This initiative aims to enhance water quality by minimizing human exposure to disinfection by-products and strengthening water supply. With applications in several European regions such as Limassol (Cyprus) or County Mayo (Ireland)… and Barcelona in Catalonia, where water chemical compounds pose complex challenges.

Maria José Farré, the scientific coordinator of the project, highlights the ability of the latter to anticipate extreme climates “by developing models to predict the short and long-term effects of climate change on dissolved organic matter in sources of drinking water.” It is thanks to technological innovation and the design of new treatments that it will be possible to address the current drought in Catalonia.

For its part, the Center for Ecological Research and Forest Applications (CREAF) plays a crucial role in promoting sustainable water and land management. Specialized in areas ranging from climate change to identifying social and territorial vulnerabilities, it leads initiatives to ensure water for future generations.

Drawing inspiration from proven solutions elsewhere

The researcher from CREAF, Annelies Broekman, highlights innovative solutions at the international level that could be applied in Catalonia. Among these, techniques such as “swales” (infiltration ditches) are used in many countries like Peru to retain water in the soil for longer periods. She also mentions the “Room for the River” project, an initiative aimed at preventing floods, improving the environment and conditions in riparian areas, following the model applied in the Netherlands.

Similarly, governance systems to manage scarcity, such as river contracts, are already being implemented in Spain on the Matarraña River in Aragon and the Guadalete River in Andalusia, as well as in France. Including the example of the Têt in the Eastern Pyrenees in France.

Solving the problem of drought will require the combination of different strategies. Xavier Sánchez Vila, an expert in hydrology, emphasizes the importance of addressing the issue through various approaches. Among the best ones is regeneration: “Currently, about 30% of treated wastewater is regenerated. The idea is to significantly increase this value, up to 70% or 80%. But for this to be effective, places will need to be found to store the portion of this regenerated resource,” and these could notably be aquifer areas on permeable land allowing the capture and storage of water.

To address the water shortage, the Catalan government announced on April 17 the installation of seawater desalination plants. From the beginning of the summer, twelve plants will supply the north of the region, and starting from October, a floating plant will supply Barcelona. It will be capable of producing 40,000 cubic meters per day, covering 6% of the city’s daily consumption. This choice is not unanimous, as denounced by the deputy mayor of Barcelona, who sees it as a very temporary solution that does not solve much.