Drought forces water restriction in Spain
Spain is experiencing its driest period of weather in more than a thousand years.
In the face of a historic drought and the threat of desertification, Spain is reconsidering how it spends its water resources, which are primarily used to irrigate agriculture.
"We must be extremely careful and responsible instead of looking the other way," Spain's Minister for the Ecological Transition Teresa Ribera said recently about the impact of the lack of rain.
Following an abnormally dry winter, Spain, like France and Italy, has been gripped by many intense heatwaves this summer.
As a result, the country's reservoirs were just 40.4% full in August, 20 percentage points lower than the 10-year normal for this time of year.
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Officials have responded by restricting water use, particularly in the southern province of Andalusia, which produces a large portion of Europe's fruits and vegetables. Reservoir water levels in the region are exceptionally low, with only 25% of their maximum capacity.
"The situation is dramatic," said University of Jaen hydrology professor Rosario Jimenez, adding that both underground aquifers and surface bodies of water were running low.
She went on to say that the issue is especially concerning because it is part of a long-term trend tied to climate change.
According to a study published last month in the journal Nature Geoscience, parts of Spain are the driest they have been in a thousand years due to an atmospheric high-pressure system caused by climate change. Greenpeace estimates that 75% of the country is susceptible to desertification.
Spain has constructed a massive network of dams to supply water to its farmers and communities.
During the twentieth century, the Netherlands erected 1,200 major dams, the most in Europe per capita.
According to the ecological transition ministry's website, this has allowed Spain to raise the amount of irrigated land it has from 900,000 hectares (2,224,000 acres) to 3,400,000 hectares, making the country's water management system "an example of success." But many experts say the system is now showing its limits.
The dams "had their use," but they also encouraged "overexploitation" of water and degradation in its quality by impeding rivers' natural flow, according to Julio Barea, a water expert with Greenpeace Spain.
'Europe's vegetable garden'
Spain is the world's second most visited country, and large amounts of water are used in tourism infrastructures such as swimming pools and golf courses. But agriculture absorbs the bulk -- over 80% -- of the country's water resources.
It is occasionally used to cultivate products that do not grow well in a dry climate, such as strawberries or avocados, for export to other European nations.
Spain's use of irrigation "is irrational", said Julia Martinez, biologist, and director of the FNCA Water Conservation Foundation. "We cannot be Europe's vegetable garden" while "there are water shortages for the inhabitants," she added.
Last month, Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's government approved a strategic plan to adapt Spain's water management system to "the effects of global warming." It includes measures to promote water recycling and "efficient and rational" uses of resources.
But specialists say that reforms remain timid, with many regions continuing to increase the amount of irrigated land.
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