Villages in Spain's parched northeast struggle to keep drinking water flowing amid drought emergency

GUALBA, Spain (AP) — Plastic jugs in hand, Joan Torrent takes a path into the woods in search of drinking water. He fills the 8-liter (2-gallon) receptacles at a natural spring and then hauls them back to his home in Gualba, a picturesque village near Barcelona that like many towns in Spain is bearing the worst of a record drought.

For Torrent, making this walk for water several times a week is a minor inconvenience, but one that may become more common as Spain and the rest of the Mediterranean adapt to climate change.

“Gualba used to be full of springs. Now I think this is the only one left,” Torrent, a 64-year-old retiree, said while making one of his trips to the fountain connected to the spring. “I don’t think we are aware of what is in store for all of us… People don’t want to hear about there being a lack of water. In my view, people need to be more conscious about the lack of water.”

Officials in Spain’s northeast region of Catalonia declared a drought emergency on Thursday, with reservoirs that serve 6 million people, including the population of Barcelona, at under 16% of their capacity, a historic low.

The drought emergency, which takes effect Friday, limits the daily amount of water permitted for residential and municipal purposes to 200 liters (53 gallons) per person. Catalonia’s water agency says the average resident uses 116 liters (30 gallons) per day at home.

But Gualba and other small towns and villages spread across the Catalan countryside have been in crisis mode for months. So while Barcelona’s population has yet to feel the drought’s impact beyond not being able to fill up private pools and wash cars, thousands of people living in small communities that depend on wells now run dry are experiencing difficulties getting water fit for consumption.

Gualba’s name, according to local lore, means “white water” thanks to the streams flowing down from the Montseny mountain that overlooks the village. But this upscale village of some 1,500 residents has been without drinking water since December, when the local reservoir fell so low that water became undrinkable and only good for washing clothes and dishes. Most residents have to drive to another town to buy bottled water.

“We have always had abundant water,” said Jordi Esmaindia, deputy mayor of Gualba. “Nobody imagined we would be like this.”

Spain has seen three years of below-average rainfall amid record temperatures, and conditions are only expected to get worse thanks to climate change, which is predicted to heat up the Mediterranean area faster than other regions.

The reservoirs fed by the Ter and Llobregat rivers in northern Catalonia have fallen to 15.8% of their capacity, while their 10-year average is 70%. Only the Guadalete-Barbate river basin in southern Andalusia, which faces similar shortages and restrictions, is worse off at 14.6%. Spain as a whole is at 50%.

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