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Barcelona Struggles Through Its Worst Drought in 60 Years

Drought forces Barcelona to ship in water

The Associated Press,  May 13, 2008

Spain's worst drought in decades forced the city of Barcelona to begin shipping in drinking water Tuesday in an unprecedented effort to avoid water restrictions before the start of vacation season.

A ship carrying 19,000 cubic meters (5 million gallons) of water from nearby Tarragona docked in Barcelona's port Tuesday morning.

A second vessel from Marseille, France, is scheduled to arrive in the coming days.

The bustling port city on Spain's Mediterranean coast is among the areas hardest hit by the worst springtime drought in the country since records began 60 years ago. With reservoirs at dramatically low levels and no substantial rainfall in sight, regional authorities are hoping to hang on until a desalination plant is completed in May next year.

The regional government of Catalonia, of which Barcelona is the capital, said six ships a month will bring in a total of 1.66 million cubic meters (438 million gallons) of water. That is roughly enough to satisfy 6 percent of the monthly needs of the region's 5.5 million inhabitants. The shipments are scheduled to last at least three months.

"It has been one of the driest years ever, and Barcelona has found itself in need of water," said Leonard Carcole, director-general of Aguas de Barcelona, the city's utility.

Catalonia's reservoirs are at about a fifth of their capacity, compared with reservoirs that are on average half full nationally.

Authorities fear reservoirs could drop to 15 percent of their capacity, a level at which it is no longer recommended that water be used for human consumption.

Authorities hope a new desalination plant -- one of the biggest in Europe -- will be operational in May of next year and resolve much of Catalonia's water woes.

"I try and show my kids how to be responsible with water," said a Barcelona housewife and mother of two, Ana Rosa Martinez.

"We collect water while the hot tap runs before the hot comes out, which we then use on the plants. My kids don't leave the water running while they brush their teeth. And I've shown them how to flush the toilet so as to avoid unnecessary waste, once to flush and once again to cut the flush short."

With the busy summer tourist season ahead, the region has been moving frantically to avoid serious cuts in supply. Already city fountains and beach showers have been turned off and restrictions placed on filling large swimming pools.

Last month, Catalonia reached an agreement with Spain's central government for a temporary water transfer from the Ebro River.

That has upset two southern regions, Valencia and Murcia, that were denied permission for a permanent, major diversion of water from the Ebro. The two areas are dependent on tourism and agriculture.

Meanwhile, farmers based in Tarragona, where the water for Barcelona was originally headed, say they need it more than the city.

Ecologists say Spain's agriculture sector, with out-of-date irrigation systems and crops that need disproportionate amounts of water, uses up to 70 percent of the country's water. They add that a tourism model based on huge resorts and golf courses is also unsustainable.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.