Residents of Catalonia in Spain are grappling with water limits and swimming pool bans as authorities declare a state of emergency over the historic drought.
The northeastern Spanish region has recorded below-average rainfall for 40 consecutive months, shrinking reservoirs to record lows.
Authorities had already banned watering lawns, filling private swimming pools and washing cars. Water pressure has also been lowered in some towns in the greater Barcelona area.
Today they extended the ban to the refilling of public pools and some restrictions on public showers.
The measures, which will come into force on Friday, will affect around six million people in 200 villages, towns and
cities, including Spain’s second largest city Barcelona.
They were adopted after reservoirs fell close to 16% of their capacity, an historic low.
By summer, authorities say they may have to bring in water by boat, though questions remain about cost and how big a difference it would make.
Around 6 million residents of Catalonia will be affected by the tighter water saving measures.
“The drought will be overcome, but we’re in a new climate reality in which it’s more likely that there’ll be new droughts
and that they’ll be more intense,” regional chief Pere Aragones told a press briefing.
The worst parched area is northern Catatonia up to the French border, while the southern area is faring better thanks to the Ebro river that runs through it. Southern Spain also is suffering drought conditions.
Catalonia has been drier than average since autumn 2020, in which time broader Europe has seen its hottest summer on record in 2022 and worst drought in 500 years.
The emergency status could cut the amount of water each person in Catalonia can use from 210 to 200 litres a day, including personal and municipal settings.
The region’s water agency says the average resident uses 116 litres per day at home.
The restrictions may also force cuts on agriculture and industry, reducing water for crop irrigation by 80%, for herd animals by 50% and for industry by 25%.
The link between drought – which comes in different forms – and climate change is complex.
However, the World Weather Attribution group of climate scientists says climate change is making droughts more severe and more likely in the Mediterranean.
The Iberian peninsula is its driest in 1,200 years, a 2022 study showed.
In total, 16% of mainland Europe – 27 countries and the UK – is in warning conditions, and a further 1% is under a drought alert.
“Droughts are natural in the Mediterranean climate pattern. What is very dramatic are the projections of climate change. What we see is an increase in the intensity and frequency of drought,” said Annelies Broekman, a specialist in water management at the Barcelona-based CREAF research institute.
Broekman says the extraordinarily intense dry period northeastern Spain is currently experiencing is different in one key way from Catalonia’s last serious drought in 2008, when boats were used to ship water to Barcelona.
“In 2008, sometimes it rained a little bit in important places, so we had little moments in which all the nature could, let’s say, have a break,” she said.
“(This time) we are below, really below, the normal pattern for a continuous period of time. And this is actually what hurts most because we can be quite resistant to periods of drought that have some respite.”
Catalonia has faced rolling water restrictions for several months that keep getting tighter as its reserves drops.
But it has avoided stricter measures so far thanks to desalination and water regeneration systems, which now account for 55% of all water use in the region.
Spanish authorities are devoting millions of euros to expand or build new desalination plants along coastal areas that are most suffering from the drought.