Barcelona, Spain – The Magic Fountain is a popular tourist attraction where colorful jets of water rose into the air while classical or pop music played.
Like the fountains in Barcelona, it is dry and a bit abandoned with signs that say: “Fountain turned off due to drought”.
The free musical spectacle at the water park, which has been running for almost 100 years, is another victim of what Catalan authorities in northern Spain have described as the “worst drought ever”.
After three years without sustained rain, emergency measures were taken over the weekend, including a ban on refilling hotel or campsite swimming pools or filling them unless recycled water is used.
If the skies do not open in the coming months, Spain could order two ships a day to transport water from Valencia to the Catalan capital, Barcelona port authorities said.
Tourists visiting Catalonia – Spain’s most popular tourist region, which attracted 18 million visitors last year – face the prospect of swimming pool closures as experts predict pools will inevitably dry out due to spills and evaporation. .
The only exception will be swimming pools used for medical reasons.
Fears for summer
With the lucrative summer tourist season ahead, camps are exploring ways to use seawater in swimming pools. One option could be to take sea water to fill the pools, but this is expensive.
Washing cars and watering public gardens were banned as part of the first phase of this emergency plan – unless the water comes from an approved recycling system.
Swimming clubs with outdoor pools are exempt – for now – but are prohibited from using showers. Television reports showed showers being covered with tape so they could not be used. The beach showers were turned off.
On Gava beach, a city south of Barcelona, Lavinia Mestre took advantage of the exceptionally warm February weather to take a quick swim.
“I know some people who stopped coming to the beach due to lack of showers. But I take a bottle and use sea water to wash the sand off my legs,” Mestre, a 20-year-old student, told Al Jazeera.
“I understand why they turned off the showers and it’s not a big sacrifice in the middle of a drought.”
‘The worst drought ever recorded’
In Barcelona, many took action after months without rain.
While Ana Miquel waited for the water to heat up in her kitchen, she collected five liters in a bottle.
“We have no choice but to save water. It’s foolish to waste water when we have a chronic drought,” Miquel, 65, a retired hotel executive living in Barcelona, told Al Jazeera.
The restrictions affect around six million people in Barcelona and 200 cities, or around 80 percent of the region’s population.
Miquel Marti, a university professor of urban planning in Barcelona, believes people should change their behavior while living in a drought.
“We put a bucket in the shower to collect water and then use it in the bathroom. We take less water to wash the dishes and make sure the washing machine isn’t on a long cycle. We have to change the way we live,” Marti, 50, told Al Jazeera.
Authorities are under no illusions about the severity of the drought, which has caused reservoirs in the region to fall to 15.8% of normal levels, according to Spanish government data.
“It is the worst drought ever recorded,” said Pere Aragonés, regional president of Catalonia, at a press conference last week.
The emergency measures aim to reduce the daily amount permitted for residential use from 210 to 200 liters (55 to 53 gallons) per person.
An average 10-minute shower uses 150-200 liters (40-53 gallons), according to the World Health Organization.
Most families in Barcelona are already well below this limit. However, hotels are using much larger amounts of water, according to a 2016 survey by Barcelona Regional, a development authority, which showed that jacuzzis and swimming pools in five-star establishments exceeded 540 liters (143 gallons). per guest per day.
The Barcelona Hotel Guild, an industry body, responded by publishing a 2022 report which stated that after years of campaigning on sustainable water use, average daily consumption per person in five-star hotels had fallen to 242 liters (64 gallons). .
Yurbban Hotels, which owns three hotels in Barcelona, asked guests to take the “four-minute shower challenge”.
“We decided to go a little further and engage our guests to shower in four minutes,” said Javier Diaz, director of hotels and sustainability.
If it doesn’t rain before spring, the personal daily limit will be reduced to 180 liters (47 gallons) and then to 160 liters (42 gallons).
Under the new restrictions, agricultural irrigation must be reduced by 80 percent – and water use in livestock farming by half and in the industry and leisure sector by 25 percent.
If triggered, a second phase of restrictions would shut down gym showers.
‘Weather without rain for years’
Catalonia’s water crisis comes after Spain and other parts of Europe suffered a series of heat waves last year that depleted reserves through evaporation, while consumption increased.
In Andalusia, in southern Spain, a deep drought has also led authorities to consider introducing similar emergency measures.
Antonio Aretxabala, a hydrology expert at the University of Zaragoza, said Spain’s water crisis was caused by a lack of rain and excessive use of water for agriculture, which represents just 2.3% of the country’s gross domestic product.
“We have had a climate without rain for years and an exorbitant use of water for agriculture. About 85 percent of water use is for agriculture. The rest is for human and industrial use,” he said in an interview with Al Jazeera.
“Spain is one of the driest parts of Europe, but it has one of the largest hydraulic footprints in terms of the type of products we export, like tomatoes or other fruits.”
Aretxabala said humans have adjusted their behavior to climate change, but agriculture has not changed fast enough.
Drought is not only affecting humans, but also damaging trees, which are essential for absorbing carbon dioxide that prevents further climate change.
“Lack of rain means trees become weaker and more prone to disease and drying out. This means they can absorb less carbon dioxide and there is a greater risk of forest fires,” said Maria Gonzalez Santis of the Center for Forest Science and Technology in Catalonia, who published a report on Monday on the damage climate change is doing. to cause. vegetal cover.