In the fight for water, the Spanish region resorts to a risky solution – which entails risk

The holiday industry is increasingly being criticized for its high water consumption. However, politicians are reluctant to take overly strict austerity measures.

Catalonia shines in an alarming red color on the map of the Spanish weather service Aemet, which shows the rainfall over the past three years. The region in the north-east of the country has never experienced such a dry period since weather data was recorded. The recent rainfall doesn’t change that. Also affected by drought is Andalusia in southern Spain and there is also a water shortage in the Balearic Islands and the Canary Islands. This means that the regions of the country that are particularly affected by tourism are affected. It’s no wonder that the holiday industry is increasingly receiving criticism. Because tourists use a lot of water.

The industry should therefore be obliged to take drastic savings measures, says Dante Maschio, spokesman for the Catalan citizens’ association Aigua és Vida, which has been campaigning for better water management in Catalonia for many years. “The previous measures to reduce consumption in tourism have been very cautious,” he says. “The sector is given extensive freedom.” In an emergency – and this is what it is – particularly water-intensive sectors would have to be forced to stop their activities completely. “We don’t just have a lack of rainfall,” says Maschio. “We have a structural problem.” The water resources have been ruthlessly exploited for many years.

Holidaymakers consume a particularly large amount of water

Julio Barea, geologist and expert on water resources at Greenpeace, also doesn’t spare his criticism: “If restrictions on water consumption apply to the normal population, then this should even more be the case for tourists,” he says. The daily per capita consumption is ten times higher than average, for example among holidaymakers in resorts with a golf course. The Andalusian regional government recently exempted hotels from the ban on filling swimming pools. “This is really complete nonsense,” says Barea.

In Catalonia, too, there was recently a ban on filling swimming pools in areas particularly affected by the drought. Among other things, in Lloret de Mar, one of the holiday strongholds on the Costa Brava northeast of Barcelona. This was a catastrophe for the hoteliers there. “The holidaymakers just want to relax by the pool,” says Enric Dotras, the chairman of the local hoteliers’ association. So that tourists are not left high and dry this summer – or stay away – the entrepreneurs quickly purchased a desalination plant for 1.5 million euros to circumvent the ban.

Hotels are getting rid of bathtubs

Dotras believes the criticism of the tourism sector is exaggerated and points to the industry’s various efforts to save water that have been going on for years. For example, many hotels have eliminated bathtubs because showering uses less water. In many cases there are incentives for holidaymakers to voluntarily forego new towels and bed linen every day. Some hotels have installed an additional water circuit so that the toilets can be flushed with process water. Incidentally, tourism in Lloret de Mar is responsible for 90 percent of the local economic output. The industry creates 12,000 jobs.

The great importance that tourism has in Spain is probably the reason why politicians find it difficult to impose further austerity measures on the industry. The Catalan regional government has now completely lifted the ban on filling swimming pools. Tourism generates twelve percent of Spain’s gross domestic product. More than 85 million foreign holidaymakers came to Spain in 2023. Never that many before. This puts Spain in second place worldwide among the most popular travel destinations behind France. Catalonia alone recorded more than 18 million visitors, putting it in first place among Spanish regions, ahead of the Balearic Islands, the Canary Islands and Andalusia.

Every fourth liter of drinking water seeps away

The main reason for the current misery is the poor use of resources, explains Cels Garcia, geography professor at the Balearic University on Mallorca. “In the Mediterranean region, dry and wet periods have always alternated. Droughts are completely natural phenomena here.” So you have to plan ahead. It is important to use the desalination plants even in periods of heavy rain so that the groundwater reserves can recover. In fact, the opposite usually happens: As soon as it rains more, the systems are shut down because the water produced in this way is much more expensive than groundwater. In addition, in Catalonia, for example, far too little has recently been invested in the infrastructure, for example in the renewal of the sewerage system. Every fourth liter of drinking water seeps into the ground unused due to dilapidated pipes. The situation is similar in the Balearic Islands and Andalusia.

In Catalonia, more than a dozen new desalination plants are now expected to help ease the situation. Among other things, the regional government is planning one in the middle of the port of Barcelona. “That’s the easy solution,” says Cels Garcia. “However, these facilities must under no circumstances be used to enable further growth.” But that is exactly what Spain is facing: In the first three months of the year, more than 16 million foreign holidaymakers came to the country – an increase of more than 17 percent compared to the previous year.

Author: Jonas Martiny

source site-37