The drought squeezes Spanish ranchers and farmers


The Spanish countryside is drying up. Since last October 1 – when the hydrological year began – until yesterday it has rained a third less of what had been customary in a Spain that was already dry. Meteorologists do not foresee rains in the medium term. There is an anticyclonic blockade that does not look like it will change, and this situation has surprised us with hardly any water reserves. The reservoirs are at 44.7 percent of their capacity, well below what they should be on these dates, when they usually reach 60 percent. Consequently, so far this year half of the hydroelectric energy has been produced than in the same period of the year

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The first to raise the alarm were the people from the countryside: the farmers, who see their crops in danger, and the ranchers, especially the extensive ones, whose animals have nothing to eat in the dry forest. The agri-food sector contributed 9.7% of GDP in 2020. But the scarcity of water, if it persists, will also affect other essential productive sectors, such as sightseeing, construction, industry and electricity production. Water is at the foundation of the productive system and its scarcity can put the economic recovery after the pandemic at risk.

The El Buerguillo reservoir, in the image, is located near the towns of El Tiemblo and Cebreros
The El Buerguillo reservoir, in the image, is located near the towns of El Tiemblo and Cebreros – Jaime Garcia

Droughts are common in Spain, but this time it reaches a country greatly stressed by Covid, the economic crisis and the exorbitant rise in prices. The scarcity of water also aggravates the political tension and provokes confrontations between the regions.

reservoirs

To cope with cyclical droughts, Spain has been building dams and reservoirs that store water in times of rain to use it later in times of scarcity. The Romans already resorted to this technique when in the first century BC they began to build the reservoir of Proserpina in Badajoz, the oldest in Spain. There are now more than 1,200 dams and reservoirs. More than a half –about 650– They were built in Franco’s time, but in the 40 years of democracy nearly 300 have been inaugurated. And new ones continue to be built, such as the one in Mularroya (Zaragoza) or the one in San Pedro Manrique (Soria), although the Government of Pedro Sánchez has suppressed 85 swamps –which were projected previously– in the new hydrological plans, which will be debated next summer. There are also inexplicable situations, such as the Villagatón reservoir (León), which has been built for 27 years and has not yet been put into service. In fact, it’s still empty.

The lack of rain affects much of the Iberian Peninsula. Only Navarra, the Basque Country, Cantabria, Aragón, La Rioja and Asturias are saved. The worst is taken Murcia, Andalusia, Extremadura and Castile-La Mancha. Also in Catalonia the drought is beginning to be worrying. There are 22 Catalan municipalities that have been suffering restrictions since last October and it has been necessary to increase the desalination plant production from 20 to 85 percent to stem the decline in reserves. Since records began to be collected, in 1914, a year has not been as dry in Barcelona as 2021, and so far in 2022 the trend has not changed. But the most alarming situation is experienced in the southern half. In some Extremaduran municipalities there are water restrictions and it has been forbidden to wash cars, water gardens or flush streets.

In various areas of the peninsula have been recorded forest fires, who are concerned about the extreme dryness of the land, and Castilla y León has prohibited the burning of stubble these days.

“A large part of the cereal harvest is going to be lost. And the cattle cannot eat because the mountain is dry. We are very concerned about the viability of both agricultural and livestock farms,” ​​warns Juan Pedro Miravete, a farmer from Almería

“A large part of the cereal harvest is going to be lost,” warns Juan Pedro Miravete, a farmer from Almería. “And the cattle cannot feed themselves because the mountain is literally dry,” he adds. “We are very concerned about the viability of farms both agricultural and livestock. It’s been many weeks since not a drop of water has fallen,” says Andrés Góngora, secretary of the Coordinator of Farmers and Ranchers of Almería. That same concern extends to Extremadura, according to what Natalia García-Camacho, president of the Professional Association of Farmers and Ranchers of Don Benito and Comarca, tells ABC. «The sector is very affected. Even before the pandemic, we protested because we did not receive fair prices for our products. We need our products to cover our costs and to be able to live from our work.” But since then the situation has worsened: «the price has gone up of fertilizers, phytosanitary products, feed, diesel, metals for tools… And, now, to all this is added the uncertainty due to the drought, “he explains. For all this, «we ask that the Table of the Drought be convened so that the exceptional rules for the use of water resources for irrigation and irrigation are arranged.

Forecast unchanged

Although meteorologists are very cautious in long-term forecasts, they do not expect the situation to change. «Prospects are not good», says José Miguel Viñas, Meteored’s meteorologist. “To make a long-term forecast, of weeks or months, we have different tools than those of a conventional forecast for the next few days,” he explains. «For the long term, models and statistical data are used that allow anticipating a behavioral trend. And what the trend models are telling us is that this same weather pattern, with a clear dominance of high pressures, will last throughout February. Even seasonal forecasts mark a similar beginning of spring.

That does not mean that it will not rain at any time, because, according to Viñas, “these trends mark a certain normality in the Mediterranean area and the eastern half of the peninsula. But it is not a particularly rainy time there. What seems clear is that even if there is an episode of rain, the dynamic that we are seeing is not going to break since the beginning of the year.

«The key is in the spring rains»

Responsible for the lack of rain is the Azores anticyclone. «the anticyclone that usually dominates in our space, that of the Azores, sometimes it strengthens, as is happening now, and remains practically immobile in a position whose center can oscillate between the north of the peninsula, France, the British Isles or the Netherlands. While it is there, all the storms that form in the Atlantic go north (Scandinavia) or south (the Canary Islands) ». The key is in the spring rains, he explains, “because in March and, above all, April and May, there should be rainfall, but it will be necessary to see if the blockade is giving way or if we have a dry spring.”


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