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The Rain in Spain Falls Mainly... Nowhere (Econoticiario Special Edition)

by JohnnyRook Sun Apr 6th, 2008 at 11:05:00 AM EST

[editor's note, by Migeru] Originally posted on 2008 March 29

I have been writing about the Spanish water crisis periodically in my weekly EcoNoticiario, but the situation there has grown grave enough that I thought it merited a diary of its own. Tensions in Spain over water are increasing. In addition to the disputes between town and countryside in Catalonia, there is now evidence of strain between the central government in Madrid and the Generalitat in Barcelona.

In the face of a drought that has now lasted 18 months and reduced Catalan reservoirs to 21% of capacity, the Catalan government has finally revealed a plan, about which there had been much speculation, subterfuge and political maneuvering: to divert water from the Segre River to the Llobregat River, despite warnings from the central government that water policy is a question for federal not regional authorities.

Conflict is not limited to the Northeast: further south, the province of Castilla-La Mancha has announced that further transfers from the Tajo (Tagus) River to the Segura which serves the water-short Murcia area's 2 million people, are impossible.

Diary rescue by Migeru

For background information check out my earlier posts here and here.

From yesterday's El País [link in Spanish]:

Riverine Map of Spain

She wasn't speaking to the man seated next to her, Francesc Baltasar, the Generalitat's Counselor for the Environment but it sounded like she was. Christina Narbona, Acting Minister of the Environment, pointed out yesterday in Barcelona that the Generalitat has made plans regarding water that are not its to make. "If transfer of water from the Ebro is what is being considered, then that is the responsibility of the [Federal] Government," she emphasized. Baltasar, promoter of the plan to divert water from the Segre to the Barcelona metropolitan area, wore a tense poker face.

Map of Segre and Llobregat with Barcelona

The Segre, which runs through Lleida, is the largest Catalan tributary of the Ebro whose watershed is managed by the [Federal] Government because it runs through nine autonomous communities. Despite this, Baltasar outlined a water diversion plan about which he had kept mum until the day before yesterday, when he admitted that there was a plan despite having denied its existence two weeks earlier in the Catalan Parliament: to divert water for eight months from the river's headwaters to the Llobregat, which supplies the Barcelona area, the region hardest hit by the drought. He then insisted on not using the word diversion preferring to describe it as a ""temporary water capture". Word choices aside, Narbona emphasized that such an idea would require a regulation with the effect of law. The proposal that the counselor has tried to keep quiet has to first be approved by the Council of Ministers and then by the Congress.

Back in Madrid, when she was asked about the executive branch's view of the Generalitat's proposal to divert water from the Segre (tributary of the Ebro) to the Llobregat watershed, Acting Vice-President María Teresa Fernández de la Vega, declared:

Sequera de Sau Cataluñya

...water policy in Catalonia is the same as in the rest of Spain and  there "are no and there will be no diversions from the Ebro"

"The Government is not generally opposed to diversions.  It is opposed to those diversions of water that are unsustainable from an economic, social and environmental point of view as is the case with the Ebro, which certainly is neither happening nor going to happen"....

But apparently the Catalan's have no intention of waiting for approval from the central government in Madrid. Today the Catalan Environment Counselor, Francesc Baltasar announced the Generalitat's intention to begin construction [link in Spanish] even before approval is received in what might be considered a challenge to the national government daring it to turn down a project that is regarded by many as vital.

As Climaticide grows, Spain, like much of the American West, will become dryer. For information on what's happening in the Mountain West, check out this excellent recent article by Patriot Daily News Clearinghouse. As the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (AR4-WG2 Chapter 12 pp. 549-550) laconically puts it:

The regions most prone to an increase in drought risk are the Mediterranean (Portugal, Spain) and some parts of central and eastern Europe, where the highest increase in
irrigation water demand is projected (Döll, 2002; Donevska and Dodeva, 2004).

Meanwhile, in southern Europe (south of 47°N), runoff decreases by 0 to 23% up to the 2020s and by 6 to 36% up to the 2070s (for the same set of assumptions).

Once again, however, reality is outpacing the IPCC projections.  Large parts of Spain are already experiencing conditions equal to or greater than those predicted in the IPCC report.

Trasvase Tajo Segura

Catalonia is not the only area facing conflicts on account of the drought. The reservoirs behind the dams of Entrepeñas and Buendía in the province of Castilla-La Mancha are currently at only 11% of capacity. This has led provincial authorities to demand an end to the diversion of water from the  Tajo (Tagus) River to the Segura which supplies Murcia and the surrounding agricultural region. Murcia is the area where the famous calasparra rice for Spanish paella is grown.

The First Vice President and spokesperson for the government of Castilla-La Mancha, Fernando Lamata, criticized the Generalitat on Thursday for putting up barriers to the development of desalinization plants on the Mediterranean coast and announced the regional Executive would fight to put an end to the Tagus-Segura diversion.

The Castillian politician, also pointed out that the upstream reservoirs of Entrepeñas and Buendía contain some 270 cubic hectometers very close to the 240 cutoff mark beyond which the law prohibits further diversions. The so-called Castillian Sea "is dry" and "it will be difficult for it to recover," he lamented. (El País--in Spanish)

The central Government has since approved the diversion of 39 hectometers from the Tagus to the Segura reducing the reservoirs to their minimum legal levels.  By law no further diversions are possible unless the levels in the reservoirs rise.

baked earth-drought

The more than two million people that depend on the diversion in the Valencia-Murcia region will be left at the mercy of the rains in Guadalajara. (El País--in Spanish)

We in the United States, particularly in the West, should be paying close attention to the Spanish experience.  It has many of the same elements that are presented by our own water problems: rising temperatures, drought, threat to ecosystems and competition over ecosystem services, over-allocated resources, conflict between agriculture and urban areas, conflict between different regional governments and between regions and the federal government, threats to the continued existence of agriculture in the affected areas and even to the continued viability of certain large metropolitan areas. The solutions that the Spanish find or fail to find may give us substantial insight into our own fate, a fate for which, in some measure, the die is already cast, but which will become much more severe if we do not take urgent steps to stop Climaticide.

Crossposted at Daily Kos

What's the ratio in Spain of water used for urban purposes compared to agricultural uses?

Here in Colorado, most of the available water (runoff from snowmelt) is used for agriculture--about 85% I believe. When the cities cry out for more water, the farmers in marginal areas sell their water rights to the cities, which then causes the irrigated farmland to revert to its pre-colonial (i.e. pre-1900) status. That status was basically desert.

But there is quite a bit of support for the idea that areas like eastern Colorado should never have been used for agriculture in the first place. These areas are good for bison herds and native dryland grasses. That's the whole "Buffalo Commons" theory.

So here the conflict is between those who think that irrigated agriculture should be supported by putting limits on urban growth, and those who think that irrigating the desert was a dumb idea in the first place...

by asdf on Sat Mar 29th, 2008 at 08:17:26 PM EST
In Spain nearly 80% of water is used in agriculture with domestic consumption of 14% and industrial use at 6%. Of the 20% of water not used for agriculture it is estimated that nearly 18% of that water is wasted through leaky pipes and system breakdowns. Most irrigation is inefficient, flooding fields not drip systems. The problem is complicated by the fact that Spanish water rates on average are a fraction of what they are in other European countries.

"My True Religion Is Kindness" -- The Dalai Lama
by JohnnyRook (johnnyrook1@gmail.com) on Sat Mar 29th, 2008 at 09:31:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
From whyat I've seen in Southern spain, a big part of the problem is water wastage.

Not only is the problem disguised by the fact that an awful lot of water is directly abstracted from aquifers by households digging wells. But water is used for golf courses, soft fruit and vegetables that allow for high evaporation rates. This will, in time, cause saline ground contamination leading to habitat destruction and accelerated desertification.

I keep wondering how the aquifer levels in S Spain are faring cos I'm sure they must be plummeting.

Yet these issues are not confined to arid areas. In my diary London - Dying like a dinosaur I pointed out that, amongst other factors strangling London, water supplies are running low.

The South East of Britain has always been the driest corner of the country. Indeed, Clacton in Essex is officially dry enough to be classed as a desert. The deluge of this summer has meant that this year has been the first time in nearly a decade when there wasn't an official water shortage somewhere in the region. If the population wasn't to increase at all, there would still be water supply problems most years yet, with every person that moves into the South East the strain becomes worse. Water for the county of Essex comes from Norfolk, itself facing a shortage. So much so that Norfolk has a continuous objection, overriden by Central Govt, to any further development in Essex.

The aquifers that sustained the area in times of drought are now being tapped into on almost a  permanent basis. A couple of years without excessive rain will undoubtedly result in water rationing as there are simply no more supplies to tap.

It is a feature of climate change, there will be increasing amounts of moisture in the atmosphere, but the increased energy will tend towards creating  conditions where damaging extremes of flood and drought are common.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sun Mar 30th, 2008 at 05:17:39 AM EST
European Tribune - The Rain in Spain Falls Mainly... Nowhere (Econoticiario Special Edition)
Christina Narbona, Acting Minister of the Environment, pointed out yesterday in Barcelona that the Generalitat has made plans regarding water that are not its to make. "If transfer of water from the Ebro is what is being considered, then that is the responsibility of the [Federal] Government," she emphasized.
Indeed, the Catalan Government, though the Catalan Water Agency is in charge of the river basins that are entirely contained within the Autonomous Community of Catalonia. However, the river basins that span more than one Autonomous Community are the competence of the National Government.

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Apr 6th, 2008 at 05:05:08 PM EST

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