The March rains ensure two months of reserves but do not resolve the drought in Catalonia

The rains of recent days have brought new relief to the region of Barcelona and Girona, but they do not allow us to claim victory over the drought.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
02 April 2024 Tuesday 10:23
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The March rains ensure two months of reserves but do not resolve the drought in Catalonia

The rains of recent days have brought new relief to the region of Barcelona and Girona, but they do not allow us to claim victory over the drought. The trend towards recovery in the level of the Ter and Llobregat reservoirs observed in March has made it possible to gain reserves equivalent to two months' consumption. However, the central region of Catalonia remains in an emergency situation.

The Easter rains have been widespread in large areas of Catalonia but have provided infrequent amounts. They have been beneficial for forests and crops, but the level of the reservoirs in the region served by the Ter and the Llobregat continues to be very worrying. They are at 17.4% of their maximum capacity, which means that the conditions are not met to lift the emergency situation (a phase that was entered when the reservoirs dropped to 16%).

Government spokespersons have been insisting that it would make no sense to lift the emergency if these levels drop within a few days and it becomes necessary to decree it again.

Bookings have been recovering since March 8-9, although volume gains have been very slight. “The quantities collected in the headwaters have been small during the last days of Holy Week (30-35 liters maximum, in some points) and much of the precipitation has been in the form of snow,” say the technicians of the Catalan Water Agency (ACA).

In the area supplied by the Ter and Llobregat rivers, reserves reach 107 hm3 and 17.4% of its capacity. That means an improvement of 16 hm3 3y about 2 percentage points in one month. Given that 0.24 hm3 of water are released per day in the entire central region of Catalonia, this means that the 16 hm3 have saved just over two months.

The rains have broken a negative trend since the summer of 2023. “It is a very timid improvement, there are still insufficient volumes to change towards a scenario with fewer limitations in the use of water,” the same sources point out. “It will be necessary to see if in the remainder of spring, in April, May and June, new and more relevant episodes of rain are recorded,” they add.

The reservoir that has recovered the most is that of Sau, which has gone from 1% at the beginning of the month to 5.9% while that of Susqueda reaches 21.4%. In the Llobregat basin, the Baells reservoir is at 23%, the Llosa del Cavall reservoir at 14%. and Sant Ponç, at 7.69%. In the coming days the recovery will continue as the headwater flows are higher than at the beginning of March and it is expected that the thaw will contribute something more.

As for the overall internal basins of Catalonia, these are at 16.9% (117 hm3), when a month ago they were at 15% (with 101 hm3). The Darnius Boadella, Siurana and Riudecanyes reservoirs have had a very small increase. March has been rainy in much of Catalonia.

March has been rainy in a large part of Catalonia and very rainy in the Pre-Pyrenees, Alt Empordà, large areas of the Pyrenees and the central pre-littoral, south of the Costa Brava and Maresme. "It hasn't rained that much since March 2022," says the Meteorological Service of Catalonia (SMC).

In Spain as a whole, the Easter rains have caused the water reserve to increase by 5.3 points to stand at 63.1%. Unlike what happened in the internal basins of Catalonia, Andalusia shows a somewhat more substantial improvement. The Guadalete-Barbate basin is at 27.2% and the Andalusian Mediterranean at 26.9%.

Hugo Morán, Secretary of State for the Environment, said that the improvement that these rains have brought must be evaluated with “caution because in some hydrographic basins we have been managing drought for six years,” which means that “the impacts of climate change have come to stay".

“The problem continues to be concentrated in three intra-community demarcations: in one case it is the responsibility of the Generalitat and in the others of the Junta de Andalucía,” he said before clarifying that “caution must be maintained so that in these basins we do not return to situations of exceptionality.”

He gave as an example the case of Catalonia, where “there has not even been a minimal recovery in the availability of resources.” In this sense, he recalled that the possible modifications regarding the water restriction measures correspond to these autonomous communities, although he ratified the Ministry's will to promote the Foix / Cubelles and Tordera II desalination plants in Catalonia and two others in Andalusia.

Hugo Morán estimated that, given the distribution of rainfall, the drought in the south of the peninsula cannot be considered over, as it is only “a specific episode” that is favorable. “The contributions of this storm should not deter us from the path of saving and reusing water. The important thing is to undertake hydrological planning processes that adapt to reality, not to try to force planning because reality is going to be stubborn. Once this hydrological planning is approved, its application should not be neglected,” said the Secretary of State.

In Spain as a whole, Easter rains represent more than triple what is usually recorded on these dates in almost the entire country, according to data from the State Meteorological Agency (Aemet).