the population is organizing to save water

the population is organizing to save water

For more than three years, drought has raged in the greater Barcelona area. The regional government declared a state of emergency, encouraging individuals and professionals to preserve blue gold.

According to the GPS on their phone, Andreu and Montse should be floating in the middle of Lake Sau. But this Catalan couple out for a walk found themselves very dry, their feet planted on cracked earth. “An almost unreal vision, I had never seen the empty pool…”, slips, speechless, the fifty-year-old, a regular at the place since a young age. It is difficult, in fact, to imagine a reserve of blue water in this vast shades of brown.

If spring comes, the dry reeds wither. “A few years ago, I paddled between the windows of the bell tower! » assures Andreu. Usually, beneath this immense artificial lake lies the village of Sant Romà de Sau, submerged in 1962. The impressive dam, several dozen meters high, also appears exposed. Montse and Andreu tilt their heads to see what little water remains. “And to think that this lake is used to supply the two largest cities in the region,” comments the Catalan. With a tank level barely above 16%, all the lights turn red.

In three years, there has been almost no rain in the region, a situation not seen in a century. The Catalan government declared a state of drought emergency on February 1 in more than 230 municipalities. In Barcelona, ​​Spain's second largest metropolis, warning messages are posted in the streets, train stations and at the airport: “Emergency, water does not fall from the sky. » Nearly six million residents are being asked to turn off the tap as much as possible, and to limit their consumption to 200 liters of water per day per person. Not a lot to drink in this country where it stands on average at 171 liters per person, but the municipalities are responsible for checking, under penalty of a fine. In Gaudi's city, rationing is increasing. The charming fountains are without water, the wellness areas of the municipal swimming pools remain closed and in the sports halls, only half of the showers are available. On the city center beach, where a few bathers splash in the still cool sea, all remain out of service.

The race to sobriety

“This is the main topic of conversation at the moment,” says Jose-Emmanuel, his feet in the sand, busy reading his newspaper behind his sunglasses. At home, the sixty-year-old even installed an economizer on his taps to reduce the water pressure. Everyone does their little thing to save precious blue gold. “The situation is catastrophic,” worries Mabel, on the top floor of a building in the historic center. Here, the pressure has decreased since February and hot water is slow to come.

Far from complaining, the Barcelona woman invents her own rules. Since the state of emergency came into effect, she has put basins in her shower and kitchen sink. Once full, she uses it as a flush and avoids pressing the button five times a day. While she also cuts down on the time spent soaping, other neighbors now only wash every other day.

Manufacturers must also reduce their consumption by a quarter, and up to 80% for intensive agriculture. Rules imposed an hour and a half's drive from the urban tumult, very close to the Mediterranean coast. “Unable to water, I will not grow corn this year. We are heading towards the unknown,” worries Marc Arnall. The farmer draws largely from the neighboring river, a source of income also for the campsites and nautical clubs located nearby. But it is difficult to transport boats out to sea with a bed at low water, at ground level. So, the “tourism people cleared the sand in the watercourse to bring the sea up,” continues Marc Arnall. Except that the salt water destroyed part of his crops. “Agriculture and tourism do not go well together,” grumbles the farmer.

What about the impact of the drought on the tourism sector, the economic pillar of the Iberian Peninsula? If the availability of water decreases, the region attracts more and more mouths to water, with 21.2 million tourists in 2023. At the headquarters of the Catalan government, we assure you, there is no question of limiting the influx of visitors. For this group of young Finns staying in a youth hostel, a large sign above the bathroom sink encourages people to reduce consumption. In one of the city's tourist districts, a poster at the hotel reception also reminds of the critical situation, upon indication of the authorities. But two blocks away, in a high-end establishment this time, no announcement at the entrance. “We are not going to ask our customers to ration their water consumption,” admits the operator half-heartedly. We have to satisfy the customers, most of whom come from the United States or Australia on cruises.

A model to change

Faced with the scale of the challenge, the Catalan government wants to be ambitious in the long term: “Catalonia will no longer depend on rain in 2030,” promised Pere Aragonès, the president of the Generalitat, the autonomous government. A whole battery of ambitious measures was announced: construction of new seawater desalination plants and opening of nine water recycling stations. Nothing really new, but we are accelerating the movement. “The production of desalinated water has been intensified since February 2022, these plants are operating at their maximum production,” confirms the president’s press service.

In the meantime, many towns remain supplied with water thanks to tanker trucks and even, in June, by a tanker boat from Valencia. On the Greenpeace side, we are skeptical and accuse the government of “poor water management”. “This is not the long-term solution, we must change the model by reducing consumption, and to do this limit tourism but also reduce agricultural production. But the government favors certain economic interests,” says Julio Barea, a spokesperson for the NGO.

While the political class is struggling and, due to lack of agreement on the budget vote, the Catalans are called to early elections on May 12, many residents, school groups and tourists continue to flock to Lake Sau to see this visible stigma of the climate. If rain continues to fail, it could become the new Pompeii of the drought age.

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