This week, it began importing potable water by ship as part of a broader effort to meet needs. Its reservoirs are down to 20 percent capacity.
A ship loaded with drinking water is seen docked in the northern Spanish port of Barcelona as part of an unprecedented emergency plan to alleviate a drought in the city. The ship was carrying some 5.3 million gallons of water, roughly enough to satisfy a day’s requirements for 180,000 people. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
With Spain’s average rainfall down 40 percent last year, many cities have restricted residents from filling their swimming pools or watering their lawns. But perhaps no municipality has developed such diverse and creative solutions as hard-hit Barcelona, which this week began a €44 million ($68 million) operation to bring in drinking water by ship.
On Tuesday, the first vessel – from the southern city of Tarragona – arrived in Barcelona’s port, where firemen discharged the ship’s 20 tanks into a pipeline linked to the city’s water distribution network. The next day, Barcelona residents were drinking Tarragona water from their taps.
The measure is designed to stave off a water crisis that has been building for some time and has reduced Barcelona’s reservoirs to 20 percent of their capacity.
“For the past four years, we’ve had a shortage of rain,” says Narcis Prat, a water expert at the University of Barcelona. “Now we have a shortage of water. Without significant rain, we only have enough to last until December.”
Professor Prat points out that the population of Spain’s second-largest city has grown by more than 1.5 million in the past 15 years, stretching limited resources further. That means the citizens’ “excellent” conservation habits aren’t enough, says Barcelona’s mayor, Jordi Hereu.
Llosa del cavall reservoir in Sant Llorencs de Morunys, north of Solsona
Spain is suffering its worst drought in more than four decades, pitting the country’s regions against each other in a fierce battle over water resources.
There has been 40 per cent less rain than usual since October 1 across the nation as a whole, according to the Meteorology Institute, although in some regions the impact has been far worse. Mediterranean regions such as Catalonia and Valencia have been the worst affected – they have had less rain than at any time since 1912.
Farmers in Catalonia fear they could lose their crops altogether if it does not rain in coming weeks, and Britons with homes on the coast could soon face restrictions on water.
The situation in Barcelona – Catalonia’s capital and top tourist draw – could soon become critical. Water reserves there are at 19 per cent of capacity – they must be shut down when they reach 15 per cent because there is too much sediment near the bottom. José Montilla, president of Catalonia, said: “We must prepare for the worst.”