Management and the threat of drought are tiptoeing through the campaign

The historic drought, which forces municipalities to limit the consumption of drinking water, with severe restrictions on agricultural uses and an uncertain future if abundant rains do not arrive, has so far not been one of the main themes of the campaign.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
22 May 2023 Monday 23:09
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Management and the threat of drought are tiptoeing through the campaign

The historic drought, which forces municipalities to limit the consumption of drinking water, with severe restrictions on agricultural uses and an uncertain future if abundant rains do not arrive, has so far not been one of the main themes of the campaign. Despite the fact that the management of drinking water is a competence in the hands of the town councils, the mayors are not raising their voices to ask for more support from the higher administrations, be it the Generalitat or the Spanish Government.

It has hardly appeared in the electoral debates, nor is it particularly relevant in the meetings or in the programs of the different parties. Not even in the most affected regions, as is the case in Lleida, with farmers at the limit; the interior of Tarragona, with towns that depend on tankers and even some with cuts in supply, or the Ebro delta, with rice fields with half of the water and the harvest in orris.

It has gone from tip to toe despite the fact that it is one of the matters that most concern the residents, in towns and cities, especially because of the risk of suffering restrictions and without much consideration that the management of the drought has all the numbers to become the problem number one for most mayors for the next term.

Although there are exceptions, such as the socialist candidate from Guissona (Segarra), Anna Rius, who among her priorities raises the reuse of water, there are few mayors who openly talk about drought in their meetings and debates for the discomfort of facing restrictions, as reasoned by the head of irrigators 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 electoral programs, more time and space is devoted to renewable energy, climate shelters or tree planting than to the drought. "The mayors tell us that it is uncomfortable to talk about possible restrictions and that it will probably be discussed from Monday; in my town, Linyola, the mayor, who does not show up, has spoken about possible night cuts", says Pedrós.

There are other significant exceptions, such as in Espluga de Francolí (Conca de Barberà), where the City Council has been forced to make cuts every night for nine months. Drinking water has been arriving since the summer in tanker trucks and the local government is desperately looking for wells, while the connection to the Ebro mini-transfer water is being executed, in the fall of 2024. With 3,700 residents , the big theme of the campaign here is undoubtedly water management. He occupied the first block in the TAC12 electoral debate between the three candidates, for almost half an hour, with cross reproaches especially between the current mayor, Josep Maria Vidal (Som Espluga), and the Junts per l'Espluga candidate, Jordi Torre , who criticized the municipal government for reacting late. "In 4 years we have done more work than in the previous 16 years", assured Vidal. "We were 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 rally: a water pond of between 15 and 25 million liters .

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

Rafel Panadés, president of the Regional Council of Plan d'Urgell, mayor of Poal and representative of the municipalities that drink water from the Urgell canal, justifies that the mayors do not get wet. "It is normal that the cuts do not enter the campaign because the councils can only recommend and ask for a collective effort, not prohibit. If I forbade filling swimming pools and fined whoever filled them, any court would find the neighbors right", he warns.

The Platform in defense of the Ebro (PDE) is one of the few entities that has publicly accused the parties of "ignoring" the management of the drought and its consequences during the campaign. "No electoral program mentions the drought, it seems that it does not go with them", laments Josep Antoni Panisello, his spokesman. The PDE requires politicians to look beyond municipal terms. "We ask that they lead the defense of the territory starting from the water; it is very good that they fix sidewalks or build sports facilities", they add.

The drought has crept into the campaign in specific cases. In Pals (Baix Empordà), where this year's rice cultivation has been halved due to the lack of water, the socialist Marisol Perea has proposed an unprecedented measure: a moratorium of between six months and a year for the construction of swimming pools and to be filled with sea water. He believes that too much has been waited 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 around 1,200 people live in Verges, Canals believes that it is necessary to start working on it. "The drought is here to stay and we need to take small measures to help us save on a day-to-day basis," he says.

While for the first time in its 161-year history the General Community of Regants of the Canals d'Urgell has closed the floodgates of its main canal and the farmers are not watering, the streets of Lleida are being cleaned with mouthwash. 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 issue has entered the campaign. The mayor of the Commune, Laura Bergés, criticized it on Saturday at the central meeting. The popular Xavier Palau proposes an ordinance for the use of water; the Junts candidate, Toni Postius, assures that the Paeria promotes reuse, and the socialist Fèlix Larrosa proposes a drought table. Activem wants to study the impact of reusing water, and Ciutadans, to modernize the drinking water system.