Spanish region of Catalonia declares drought emergency

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About six million people in more than 200 towns, villages and cities in the northeastern Spanish region of Catalonia will be banned from washing their cars or filling swimming pools as the regional government on Thursday declared a state of emergency due to a water shortage caused by drought.

Water consumption in the affected municipalities will also be limited to 200 liters per person per day, the Catalan government announced, with the measures including the Catalan capital of Barcelona.

Catalonia has been facing increased water shortages in recent years. The current drought, the “worst in history,” has been ongoing for more than three years, according to the Catalan government.

The emergency measures announced Thursday also limit water usage for agricultural, industrial, and recreational use and were announced as water supplies for the regions continued to drop.

Farmers will have to reduce their water usage for irrigation by 80%, while the amount of water used for livestock is to be halved, according to the Catalan government.

Reserves in the Ter-Llobregat water system, made up of Catalonia’s two biggest rivers, fell to 16% Thursday, triggering the emergency announcement, the president of the Catalan government, Pere Aragonès, said.

Catalonia has several emergency levels with different restrictions on the use of water. The current emergency level declared for the 200 municipalities affected is at tier one of three. The ban affects regions previously in pre-emergency, with less harsh restrictions. A separate 36 municipalities had already been in the highest state of emergency, according to Spanish public service broadcaster RTVE.

Authorities in the region have previously attempted to overcome the below-average rainfall with various measures, including increasing the use of desalination plants that turn seawater into freshwater. More than half of the water used in Catalan homes now comes from such plants, according to Aragonès.

Other areas of Spain are also facing water shortages, with some localities in the southern region of Andalucia experiencing drought conditions and restricting water use following two years of little rainfall and extreme heat.

New reality

These conditions point to a new reality for parts of Europe, which is warming twice as fast as the global average.

While it will take time to pin down the exact role climate change is playing, scientists are clear that human-caused global heating is making droughts and heat waves more common and more extreme — putting colossal pressure on water resources.

Last summer, heat gripped patches of the Mediterranean region, bringing a “heat hell” scientists say would have been virtually impossible without climate change.

That same year, global warming hit 1.48 degrees Celsius, according to data published by Copernicus — the EU’s climate and weather monitoring agency. Record temperatures pushed the world just hundredths of a degree away from a critical climate threshold.

In March, average water levels in Catalonia’s reservoirs were at about 27% and there are already some water restrictions in place. At the time, the Sau Reservoir, about 60 miles north of Barcelona, was only around 9% full, according to Catalan Water Agency data.

Tarch, the Catalan Water Agency, started removing fish in an attempt to save some of them and protect the water quality in what remains of the reservoir, which more than five million people rely on for drinking water. Water was so scarce, some farmers in the region turned to prayer.

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