The management and threat of drought tiptoes through the campaign

The historical drought, which forces municipalities to limit the consumption of drinking water, with severe restrictions on agricultural uses and an uncertain future if heavy rains do not arrive, has not been one of the main issues of the campaign until now.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
22 May 2023 Monday 22:25
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The management and threat of drought tiptoes through the campaign

The historical drought, which forces municipalities to limit the consumption of drinking water, with severe restrictions on agricultural uses and an uncertain future if heavy rains do not arrive, has not been one of the main issues of the campaign until now. Despite being the management of drinking water a competence in the hands of the town halls, the mayors are not raising their voices to ask for greater support from higher administrations, be it the Generalitat or the Spanish Government.

It has hardly appeared in the electoral debates nor does it have special relevance in the rallies or in the programs of the different parties. Not even in the most affected regions, as is the case of Lleida, with farmers in check; the interior of Tarragona, with towns at the expense of tanker trucks and even some with supply cuts; or the Ebro delta, with rice farmers with half the water and the harvest in the air.

It has tiptoed past despite being one of the issues that most concern residents, in towns and cities, especially due to the risk of restrictions and without taking too much into account that drought management has all the numbers to become the number one problem for most mayors in the next term.

Although there are exceptions, such as the socialist candidate from Guissona (Segarra), Anna Rius, who raises the reuse of water among her priorities, few are the mayors who speak openly about drought in their rallies and in the debates due to the discomfort of facing restrictions, according to the reasoning of the person in charge of irrigation of Unió de Pagesos (UP), Jaume Pedrós, and the president of Jarc Catalunya, Joan Carles Masot.

In his references to the climate emergency, common in many of the electoral programs, more time and space is dedicated to renewable energies, climate shelters or planting trees than to drought. “The mayors tell us that it is uncomfortable to talk about possible restrictions and that it will probably be discussed as of Monday; In my town, Linyola, the mayor, who doesn't show up, has talked about possible nighttime power cuts,” says Pedrós.

There are other significant exceptions, such as in l'Espluga de Francolí (Conca de Barberà), where the City Council has been forced to make power cuts every night for nine months. The drinking water has been arriving since last summer in tanker trucks and the local government is desperately looking for wells, while the connection with the water from the Ebro mini-transfer is carried out in autumn 2024. With 3,700 residents, the great theme of the campaign here is certainly water management. In the TAC12 electoral debate between the three candidates, he occupied the first block, for almost half an hour, with reproaches exchanged, especially between the current mayor, Josep Maria Vidal (Som Espluga), and the Junts per l'Espluga candidate, Jordi Torre , which criticized the municipal government for reacting late. "In four years we have done more work than in the previous 16 years," said Vidal. “We have been the first town in Catalonia to run out of water. For years we have had brutal losses of water due to the poor condition of the pipes”, criticized Francesc Sánchez (Nova Espluga-PSC), with a star project at his meeting: a water raft of between 15 and 25 million liters.

The president of Asaja, Pere Roqué, assures that to all the mayors of Lleida, his organization presents drought as a priority. "I don't understand how there is so much talk about Lleida, the agri-food capital, and there is no drought table," he criticizes.

Rafel Panadés, president of the Pla d'Urgell Regional Council, mayor of El Poal and representative of the municipalities that drink water from the Canal d'Urgell, justifies that mayors not get wet. “It is normal that the cuts do not enter the campaign because the city councils can only recommend and ask for a collective effort, not prohibit. If I prohibited filling pools and fined whoever filled them, any court would agree with the neighbors, ”he warns.

The Platform in Defense of l'Ebre (PDE) is one of the few entities that has publicly charged against the parties for "ignoring" the management of the drought and its consequences in the campaign. "No electoral program refers to the drought, it seems that it does not go with them," laments Josep Antoni Panisello, his spokesman. The PDE requires politicians to look beyond the municipal boundaries. “We ask that you lead the defense of the territory based on water; It is very good that they fix sidewalks or make sports centers ”, they add.

Drought has crept into the campaign in specific cases. In Pals (Baix Empordà), where rice cultivation this year has been halved due to lack of water, the socialist Marisol Perea has proposed an unprecedented measure: a moratorium of between six months and one year on the construction of swimming pools and that the filling is carried out with sea water. She considers that too much has been expected and that with more consensus measures with the Generalitat much more water could have been saved.

In Verges, also in the Baix Empordà, the drought has also entered the campaign. Diana Canals, mayor of the CUP, the party that governs the municipality, proposes a drought plan. Only municipalities with more than 20,000 inhabitants are required to have this tool and, although some 1,200 people reside in Verges, Canals believes that work must begin on it. “The drought is here to stay and small measures must be adopted to help us save on a day-to-day basis,” she affirms.

While for the first time in its 161-year history the General Community of Regants of the Canals d'Urgell has closed the gates of its main canal and the peasants do not irrigate, the streets of Lleida are cleaned with mouth water. The City Council, governed by Miquel Pueyo (ERC) and Toni Postius (Junts), assures that it is already working on a pilot test to clean the streets with treated water from the treatment plant.

The matter has entered the campaign. The mayor of the Commune, Laura Bergés, criticized him on Saturday at the central meeting. The popular Xavier Palau proposes a water use ordinance; the Junts candidate, Toni Postius, assures that the Paeria promotes reuse and the socialist Fèlix Larrosa raises a drought table. Activem wants to study the impact of reusing water and Ciudadanos to modernize the drinking water system.