Spain is facing a water supply crisis. Your best option is to drink the Mediterranean

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Today Melilla wakes up without water and we already know that the same thing will happen tomorrow. The situation is critical: with the Adelfas reservoir at 17% of its capacity and the city’s wells completely exhausted, the desalination works have forced the Government of Melilla to close the tap to its more than 80,000 citizens. It may seem like very local news, but it is not. If we talk about water, Melilla is not just a city in North Africa: it is the future of Spain.

a national problem. Due to its particular geographical conditions, Melilla is a critical situation, but (as I say) it is not endemic to the city. We can check it if we go to the second desalination plant in the country. The El Prat de Llobregat plant is capable of producing 200 million liters of water per day; enough to serve 60% of the population of Catalonia. There is nothing. When it was opened in 2009 it was the largest desalination plant on the continent (something that Torrevieja, Alicante now boasts) and, during this decade, it has been a manifestly underused infrastructure. Until now.

El Prat has been producing for six months 140 million liters a day. Never before, in all these years that it has been in operation, has it spent so many months at such a high level of production. The reason is simple: it doesn’t rain. It has not rained, at least, since 2014. Each year since then has ended with less rain than the historical average (1971-2000); each season has added its grain of sand to reach the current situation of widespread drought: a global, constant and increasingly widespread deficit. Reservoir water is at historic lows.

Long periods of drought are going to be more and more normal.  It's time to get used to them

A slow process of desertification. Thanks to data from the World Resources Institute, we can verify that areas such as the United States or the Middle East will have gigantic problems at the water level. But, as Robert Glennon, a professor at the University of Arizona, explained to us, Spain will not be far behind. The WRI helps us combine various dynamics and trends to weigh the most plausible scenarios in 2030 and its conclusions are quite clear: Spain will be one of the 33 countries with the most supply problems in the world by 2040.

prepare for the future We have come a long way, do not believe. Today, the average Spaniard uses about 132 liters of water a day, 38 liters less than 20 years ago. However, it is not enough. It rains approx. 25% less than 50 years ago. So much so that Spain consumes around 50 percent of the water available and this is a very high proportion because there is very little management margin. Taking more water out of the ecosystem almost automatically entails, cause severe damage. We have seen it repeatedly over the years.

an exhausted model Traditionally, the water policy of Spain is articulated around reservoirs and transfers. We have 1,300 reservoirs (30 reservoirs per million inhabitants) and water movements between basins are common. However, as the data says, efforts to “capture, store and move” water are doomed to failure. According to their calculations of the national hydrological planBy mid-century, it will rain 7% less and that will translate into an 18% contribution of water from internal basins. If we take into account that the swamps today are more than 30% below the historical average at this time, the horizon is quite terrifying.

The perfect Storm. If we want to have a future, we are going to have to drink the Mediterranean. That is, to produce a lot (a lot) of fresh water through desalination. And it will be expensive. Not only because of investments in desalination plants (the Government of Catalonia, for example, will invest more than 2,300 million in five years to double the capacity of El Prat): the process entails enormous energy consumption. To get an idea, making a cubic meter of water drinkable requires more than 3 kilowatt hours. We are going straight to face the problem of water scarcity in the middle of the biggest energy transition of the century. We’re going to need more than just a lucky break.

Image | Agueda Bellido

Today Melilla wakes up without water and we already know that the same thing will happen tomorrow. The situation is…

Today Melilla wakes up without water and we already know that the same thing will happen tomorrow. The situation is…

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