A CONTINUING drought across Spain has left eight of the country's 19 rivers used as water supply at less than 50% of their capacity, especially the Segura, Duero and Júcar.
Although not the worst drought Spain has seen this century – this having been in 2012 – certain individual rivers are running drier than ever, according to minister for the environment Isabel Tejerina.
The Segura, which runs through the south of the Alicante province and the Region of Murcia, is the most worrying of all as it is only 23.43% full, Sra Tejerina reveals.
And the Júcar, across the province of Valencia, is hurtling towards a state of emergency at 33.59% full, still lower than last year when it was already causing concern after dropping to 34.4% of its capacity.
The river Duero, through Castilla y León and into Portugal – where it becomes the river Douro – has plummeted from 85.28% full a year ago to 44.12% now.
Lack of rainfall in Spain as a whole, and especially on the Mediterranean – where the usual four-day autumn and spring monsoons, known as a gota fría, have been largely absent in the last few years and where the normally persistent late autumn and early spring showers of 10 or 15 years ago barely put in an appearance nowadays – is responsible for the drought, and is thought to be the result of global warming.
Sra Tejerina assures that on-tap water supply is 'guaranteed' for everyone in Spain, although whether this will continue over the years go come will 'depend upon how much it rains'.
Exceptional measures have been approved to deal with the shortage if it gets worse, which include hosepipe bans for parks and gardens – although not for farming – and swimming pool-filling.
These have been in place since May 15 in the provinces of León, Palencia, Burgos and Valladolid, says the regional water supply and rivers authority, the Duero Hydrographic Confederation.
Farmers have to 'wait their turn' to water their crops and are given slots.
In the last two years, tap water supplies have even been cut off in some towns in Spain for several hours a day – in the northern third of the province of Alicante, residents had no water for up to 12 hours daily in some towns, particularly those whose population rockets in summer with tourists and part-time residents.
Some have coped better than others thanks to contingency plans put in place up to a decade or more ago – Torrevieja and Jávea, in the south and north of the province of Alicante respectively, are supplied by desalination plants which take water from the sea and extract the salt, meaning they always have enough to go round if they do not 'sell' water to neighbouring towns, but residents have to bear the cost of these plants via fixed supplements added to their water bills which will continue for many more years.
Rainfall this spring across the country averaged at 133 litres per square metre, or 13.3 centimetres (five-and-a-half inches) in three months, aound 23% lower than the typical figure for the time of year – and so far, since the beginning of October, average rainfall has been around 13% below 'normal' amounts.
Higher temperatures have also fuelled the drought – the average nationwide in March was 0.9ºC more than usual, rising to 1.9ºC hotter in April and 2.4ºC more in May, with a total average for this spring of 1.7ºC hotter than is generally seen for the season.
Photograph of the river Segura by the water supply and rivers authority, the Segura Hydrographic Confederation (CHS)