‘I pray and hope': These European villages are already facing another year of extreme drought

‘I pray and hope': These European villages are already facing another year of extreme drought

Last year, parts of Europe saw drought so severe that supplies of drinking water were limited.

A winter with little rainfall was followed by one of the driest summers on record as heatwaves swept across the continent. Millions of people suffered the consequences of these extreme weather conditions.

Another dry winter with low rain and snowfall has failed to replenish already dwindling supplies. And the European Commission has warned that European and Mediterranean regions could be in for another extreme summer this year.

Now some residents in regions that saw the worst of last year’s drought are preparing for a repeat of the water restrictions they saw before.

Spain threatened with failed crops and dry drinking water reserves

Drought in Spain has intensified this year, threatening drinking water reserves and crops and increasing the risk of forest fires.

The country's meteorological agency Aemet says that March and April have been very dry and to make matters worse, it isn't expecting any rain in the coming weeks.

Spanish farmers' associations recently warned that drought is already "suffocating" 60 per cent of the countryside. Crops like wheat and barley are likely to fail entirely in four regions this year, they say.

The Coordinator of Farmers’ and Ranchers’ Organisations warned that the country's long-term drought is causing "irreversible losses".

And in northeastern Spain,  Aemet says that drought has reached “extraordinary proportions”.

Catalonia expects 'more of the same' this summer

One of the places where communities have suffered the most is Catalonia. Regional President Pere Aragonés recently said that drought is "already the first problem in Catalonia".

The Sau reservoir is at 9 per cent of its total capacity and drinking water for the six million people who live in Barcelona’s metropolitan area is at risk.

Several municipalities have such low reserves that tankers are being brought in to supply people with water.

Last year, people in the municipality of Bonastre in Baix Penedès, Catalonia were limited to using water for around four hours a day. There aren’t currently any restrictions, but residents are resigned to a return of the situation they saw last summer.

“We aren’t afraid that there will be restrictions again because it is something we are used to,” says Mario Ferrara, a resident of Bonastre.

“This year we know it will be more of the same.”

The town council has built a new well, Mario says, because the one they were using before has dried up. It was supplied by the Gaia aquifer which is feeling the effects of the drought.

AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti
View of La Baells reservoir in Berga, about 112 km north of Barcelona. - AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti

The new well was part of a plan by the municipality to curb water shortages and restrictions and was completed at the end of 2022.

But, Mario adds, “this is more of a stopgap than a definitive solution.”

This year he says he is preparing for summer by buying bottles and jerry cans of water.

“The solution once restrictions are in place will be to shower before the neighbours so that we don’t run out of water.”

‘Almost a year’ of water shortages in Castellcir

The village of Castellcir just north of Barcelona has 800 residents. They have been using tankers for “almost a year” to get water.

Isabel Forner is the owner of a clothing shop in the village.

“We live in the mountains and the land is drier than ever,” she tells Euronews Green.

“It hasn’t rained at all this winter and the land was so dry that when it snowed, it sucked it up like a hoover. It didn’t last five seconds because of the lack of water.”

Four times a day, trucks come to refill their water tanks. The town council has sent a letter to residents about the water shortages asking them to reduce their consumption and not to fill their pools. This year’s communication is more severe than ever before.

“They claim that if the situation continues, water restrictions will be implemented,” Isabel explains.

One of the biggest problems is people who come from abroad to the village on holiday and ignore the restrictions, she says. Holidaymakers also bring concerns about wildfires.

“Even though you can't have fires and it's against the regulations, they have barbecues.”

She worries that authorities will implement restrictions as tough as those seen in Bonastre last year. But, even if she doesn’t like the restrictions, Isabel says it's better that they start to put them in place now instead of when there is no water left.

AP Photo/Alberto Saiz
A prolonged drought after a record-hot 2022 appears to have brought the wildfire season forward and Spanish officials are now bracing for more huge fires. - AP Photo/Alberto Saiz

People prepare for a dry summer in Italy’s Po basin

The north of Italy suffered the worst droughts it has seen in 70 years last summer. Some regions almost entirely ran out of water to irrigate crops, putting food supplies at risk. Levels in the Po River fell to a record low.

And the basin of Italy’s longest river is still suffering the effects after a winter with little rain. This winter the waterway has remained at levels rarely ever seen even in the height of summer.

Leonardo Pozzati is a local business owner and resident of Ariano nel Polesine village along the Po River.

“I have horses and other animals. Their water supply comes directly from the ground using a pump and a well around 10 metres deep,” he explains.

This year, there’s a very real possibility that if the groundwater level drops low enough, the well will go dry.

“This year, there’s a very real possibility that if the groundwater level drops low enough, the well will go dry.”

Leonardo says this could be a problem for a lot of people in the area who use wells to get water for their plants and crops.

“To prepare, I’m looking at how to link up the animals’ water supply to a mains water supply, but this obviously costs money,” he adds.

“Last year, water companies and local councils restricted the way water could be used or at what time of day, so I might also have to fill up vats in the early morning or evening when water use is permitted.”

‘My solution this year is to pray and hope’

Maria Camisotti, another of Ariano nel Polesine’s residents, is cutting back in anticipation of more water restrictions this summer.

“My water supply for my vineyard and garden comes from the mains,” she says.

“I haven’t planted many vegetables this year because I’m worried they’ll cut the supply or restrict the hours like last year.”

Last summer she watered her crops anyway, despite the restrictions, but this year all she has planted are peas.

“In the summer, I’ll fill buckets with water and put the plants into them. This way I also hope to save money because it costs a lot from the mains,” she explains.

There have now been two very dry winters. My solution this year is to pray and hope.

“Fifty years ago there was the opposite problem completely, the Po river was full, there was too much water. But already the corn looks poor quality because it’s too dry.

“There have now been two very dry winters. My solution this year is to pray and hope.”

France faces a worse summer drought than in 2022

A lack of winter rain has put France on course for even worse summer drought than last year - particularly in the south of the country.

The fire season has already started early with firefighters recently tackling the first forest blaze of 2023 on the France-Spain border.

French geological service BRGM says that groundwater levels are below what they were in 2022 and many areas will have to introduce water restrictions. The regions at the highest risk are central France and the area surrounding Paris.

On Friday 14 April, several villages in the foothills of the Pyrenees lost their fresh water supply, according to reports from AFP. Wells and water supplies in Bouleternere, Corbere, Corbere-les-Cabanes and Saint-Michel-de-Llotes all but ran dry leading to restrictions for residents.

A municipal employee delivers packages of drinking water to the homes of elderly inhabitants in Corbere-les-Cabanes, southwestern France. - RAYMOND ROIG/AFP

Bottled water was distributed to around 3,000 residents when levels in the borehole that usually supplies these villages reached just "30 centimetres above the pump". The local water management company is betting on commissioning a new borehole at the end of June to avoid this situation in the future.

Some regions have also been under drought warnings for weeks - much earlier than they were last year. In the department of Loir-et-Cher in the Central-Val de Loire region, water levels in early March were what they usually are in July.

The area isn't under strict restrictions yet but officials have asked people to check their water meters regularly. Residents are being asked to avoid cleaning their cars at home, to run their dishwashers in eco-mode and collect rainwater for their gardens.

It's a problem that President Emmanuel Macron is hoping to tackle with new countrywide water-saving measures that were announced ealier this year. He called for price increases for those who waste water with the plan centring on around 50 different measures such as re-using water, sharing and avoiding leaks.

It also includes measures for farmers to adapt to drought conditions and management for water use in the nuclear industry.