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]:
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.
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:
...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.
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.
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