Dry winter drains reservoirs and ruins crops in Spain and Portugal

ACEREDO, Spain (AP) — Roofs sticking out of the water have become commonplace every summer at the Lindoso Reservoir in northwestern Spain. In particularly dry years, parts would appear of the ancient village of Aceredo, submerged three decades ago when a hydroelectric dam flooded the valley.

But never before had the skeleton of the village emerged in its entirety in the midst of a usually wet winter season.

With almost no rain for two months and little expected any time soon, the ruins of Aceredo evoke a mixture of emotions for locals as they see the rusted carcass of a car, a stone fountain with the water still gushing and the old road leading to what was once the local bar.

“The whole place was once made up of vines, orange trees. It was all green. It was beautiful,” said José Luis Penín, 72, who used to stop by the bar with pals at the end of a day of fishing.

“Look at it now,” said Penín, who lives in the same county, pointing to the yellow, cracked reservoir bed. “It’s so sad.”

While arid areas of the Iberian Peninsula have historically experienced periods of drought, experts say climate change has exacerbated the problem. This year, amid record levels of little or no rainfall, farmers in Portugal and Spain, who grow produce for the whole of Europe, fear their harvests this season could be ruined.

In the last three months of 2021, Spain recorded only 35% of the average rainfall it had experienced during the same period from 1981 to 2010. But there has been almost no rain since during.

According to the national meteorological agency AEMET, during this century, it was only in 2005 that there was a month of January with almost no rain. If the clouds don’t break loose in the next two weeks, emergency subsidies for farmers will be needed, authorities said.

But Rubén del Campo, a weather service spokesman, said the below-average rainfall over the past six months is expected to continue for several weeks, in hopes that spring will bring some much-needed relief.

While only 10% of Spain has been officially declared in “prolonged drought”, large areas, particularly in the south, are facing extreme shortages which could impact crop irrigation.

The valley around the Guadalquivir River in southwestern Spain was declared a prolonged drought in November. It is now the center of a fierce environmental dispute over water rights near Doñana National Park, a World Heritage wetland site. The Andalusian regional government wants to grant water rights to farmers on land near the park, but critics say the move will further endanger an important wildlife refuge that is already drying up.

“The last two or three years have been dry, with a tendency for less and less rain,” said Andrés Góngora, a 46-year-old tomato farmer in southern Almería.

Góngora, who expects the water he uses from a desalination plant to be rationed, is still better off than other farmers who specialize in wheat and grains for livestock feed.

“This year’s cereal harvests have been lost,” Góngora said.

Other parts of central and northeastern Spain are also feeling the blight.

Spain’s main farmers’ and ranchers’ association, COAG, warns that half of Spain’s farms are at risk of drought this year. It says that if it doesn’t rain heavily in the coming month, rainfed crops, including cereals, olives, nuts and vines, could lose 60-80% of their production.

But the association is also concerned about crops that rely on irrigation, with reservoirs at less than 40% capacity across much of the south.

Spain’s leftist government plans to dedicate more than 570 million euros ($647 million) from the European Union’s pandemic recovery fund to make its irrigation systems more efficient, including integrating renewable energy systems .

Spanish Agriculture Minister Luis Planas said this week that the government would take emergency action if there was no rain in two weeks. These would probably be limited to economic benefits to compensate for the loss of crops and income for farmers.

Neighboring Portugal has also seen little rain since last October. At the end of January, 45% of the country was experiencing “severe” or “extreme” drought conditions, according to the national weather agency IPMA.

Rainfall from October 1 to January was less than half the annual average for the four-month period, alarming farmers who lack grass for their livestock.

Unusually, even northern Portugal is dry and has had forest fires there this winter. In the south, crickets are already singing at night and mosquitoes have appeared, traditional signs of summer.

The IPMA does not expect any relief before the end of the month.

Portugal has seen an increase in the frequency of droughts over the past 20 to 30 years, according to IPMA climatologist Vanda Pires, with lower rainfall and higher temperatures.

“It’s part of the context of climate change,” Pires told The Associated Press.

And the outlook is bleak: scientists estimate that Portugal will experience a drop in average annual rainfall of 20-40% by the end of the century.


Joseph Wilson in Barcelona, ​​Spain, Barry Hatton in Lisbon and Aritz Parra in Madrid contributed to this report.


Follow all AP stories on climate change at https://apnews.com/hub/climate

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