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Dead crops, disappearing lakes, and trucked-in water: arid region Spain is now dry

Spanish Catalonia — Santi Caudevilla is concerned as he stands in his field of stunted, wilted corn. “It will be zero if the weather does not change.” “Nothing will be harvested,” he stated.

Caudevilla, who farms maize, sorghum, and other crops in Gimenells, Catalonia, has been severely impacted by the catastrophic drought that has ravaged this region of northeastern Spain.

For years, rainfall has been insufficient. “We’re in the desert.” “Today is a desert,” he said.

For farmers like Caudevilla, a scarcity of water is beginning to feel like an existential crisis, and he is concerned about the future of his vocation. Crops wilt due to a lack of water, or cannot be planted at all, making it increasingly difficult to make ends meet.

Droughts are a fact of life in this part of Spain. “They are typical of Catalonia’s Mediterranean climate,” said Albert Ruhi, a freshwater biologist at the University of California, Berkeley who is originally from Catalonia.

However, a significant lack of rain and snow has made this one much, much drier, he told the associated press.

“This is the worst period in the last 100 years,” Catalan Water Agency director Samuel Reyes told the associated press.

The issue extends beyond Catalonia.

Spain has been in a long-term drought since the end of 2022, according to Ricardo Torrijo, a spokeswoman for AEMET, the Spanish national weather office.

The country received only 36% of the usual monthly rainfall in March, making it the second driest month of the century. Torrijo told the associated press that the trend continued into April, which could wind up being the driest on record.

Drought conditions have been aggravated by scorching temperatures that are more akin to mid-July than April.

Last Thursday, the city of Córdoba in southern Spain set an April temperature record of 38.8 degrees Celsius (101.8 degrees Fahrenheit).

The combination of dryness and heat has fueled fears of a recurrence of last summer when the country saw blistering heat waves and wildfires that burnt across 306,000 hectares (756,000 acres). This spring’s very early flames have already burnt more than 10,000 acres in Castellon’s eastern district.

These conditions indicate a new reality for portions of Europe, which are warming twice as rapidly as the world average. While it will take time to determine the precise role of climate change, scientists are certain that human-caused global warming is increasing the frequency and severity of droughts and heat waves.

‘A calamity for agriculture’

The Sau Reservoir’s fractured, dried ground demonstrates the severe toll the lack of rainfall has had on Catalonia’s water sources.

The reservoir, which is about 60 miles north of Barcelona, is a significant supply of drinking water for the area, but as of late April, it was just 7 percent full.

The lake’s water levels are so low that a medieval village that was submerged when it was formed in the 1960s has reemerged, giving the scorched lakebed a ghostly aspect.

Authorities had to remove native fish from the reservoir to prevent them from suffocating and siphoning water out of the reservoir to safeguard water quality.

Around 25% of Catalonia’s reservoirs are full, which is significantly less than is typical for this time of year.

Farms throughout the area are suffering greatly as a result of the water shortage. Mart Costal, head of water at the Young Farmers and Ranchers of Catalonia (JARC), declared that there was no precedent.

On rainfed land, the majority of the wheat and barley harvests would be destroyed, while on irrigated areas, the harvests will be reduced by half, Costal told the associated press. “May will be a disaster if it doesn’t rain,” he said.

It is a narrative that spans the agricultural heartland of the nation.

The Coordinator of Farmers’ and Ranchers’ Organizations (COAG) estimates that 60% of Spain’s countryside is affected by drought, which has damaged crops on 3.5 million hectares (8.6 million acres) of land. Greater than the size of the state of Maryland, that area.

Farmers rely on grassland to feed their animals, putting livestock farming at risk. They are obliged to buy food if they do not have it. According to Serge Zaka, an agrometeorologist, losses in orchards, vineyards, olive oil production, and vegetable crops are also forecast.

He claimed that the current agro-climatic circumstances were causing an agricultural catastrophe.

Bees are also unable to produce honey due to a shortage of flora. According to COAG, beekeepers are facing a third consecutive season without a crop due to water limitations.

Spain requested emergency funding from the European Union in April to assist farmers in dealing with the effects of the drought.

There isn’t any water

Water scarcity affects drinking water as well as agriculture.

One of several Catalan villages that have been reliant on water trucks brought in from outside is Castellcir, which is located about 30 miles north of Barcelona.

People have been urged to save water by taking short showers, washing their dishes carefully, and not filling their swimming pools.

The issue has existed for more than a year, according to Juan Cogdony, a villager. He said to the associated press, “We are concerned.

Looking up at the sky, Cogdony remarked, “It just won’t rain.” “Water is not present. No water, just beer,” he laughed.

Many are raising the alarm about what might be in store for Spain as the summer draws near and the possibility of significant spring rainfall fades.

Scientist Joan Girona Gomis of the Institute of Agrifood Research and Technology, a study group run by the Catalan government, said, “We are now in a very dramatic situation.”

“We will suffer a bad drought this summer,” he warned the associated press if there isn’t a lot of rain.

Gomis has been researching to improve the effectiveness of the irrigation systems that farmers use, particularly by utilizing technology such as sensors to determine the precise amount of water that crops require.

“The big question,” according to Gomis, is whether Catalonia can continue to be one of Europe’s most important farming regions. Everything depends on “our ability to adapt.”

Costal expects significant changes, including research into drought-resistant crops, investments in urban and agricultural infrastructure, and improvements in water efficiency.

He believes that what is happening in Spain and other parts of Europe will remind people of the origins of their food. “The fruits are produced in the field, not on the shelves of a supermarket,” he explained.

Caudevilla is concerned about what would happen to the Catalan countryside if droughts and heat waves become more regular and intense, as predicted.

“This area is facing abandonment,” he remarked. Farmers are becoming older, he says, and “in 10 years, nobody will want to work in this countryside.”



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