New drought law approved with fines for councils that don't comply with water restrictions
Measure that sees investment in Catalan Water Agency to ensure drinking water was approved by Junts, ERC, Socialists, and PP
The Catalan parliament has approved a new drought law that lays the groundwork for how drinking water can be guaranteed and a sanctions regime for local councils that do not comply with water restrictions which proved a sticking point among lawmakers in the negotiations over the bill.
The law, put forward by Junts, was approved on Thursday with votes from fellow pro-independence group Esquerra, the Socialist Party, and the conservative People's Party.
The law, which replaces the government's initial decree, will cover all of Catalonia and not just the internal basins, and includes priority actions to ensure access to drinking water and funding for the Catalan Water Agency to undertake the necessary works to fix infrastructure.
Councils may be fined if they use more water than they should. Around 25% of the municipalities currently consume more water than the restrictions set, representing less than 10% of the population. Considering the current drought and lack of rain, tackling the consumption of these towns could be key during the emergency situation.
Fines for councils will come into force a month after the government calls for subsidies for municipal works to solve water leaks, if they do not express their will to fix the damage. This would avoid sanctioning councils that do not have the tools to resolve issues, since if they ask for subsidies they can justify that they are in the process of solving the infringement.
An extraordinary budget allocation will be allocated for urgent works to ensure the availability of water. Among the projects planned is the expansion of the Tordera desalination plant and a new desalination plant in Cubelles.
Several other lines of funds fall under the new law, such as €50 million from the budgets for municipal bodies to make investments, and €50 million to improve facilities in water treatment plants and reservoirs.
Firefighters start earlier wildfire prevention
The drought has forced firefighters to start the wildfire prevention season 15 days earlier than usual. The emergencies body has increased staff ahead of the summer season, and from May, the team will already have two helicopters to battle blazes, two to coordinate, and three for supervision. Overall, there will be 35 aerial units, ten of them from the Spanish government.
The lack of water in reservoirs will also complicate the situation for firefighters as "there are five reservoirs that cannot be used for aerial firefighting," David Borrell, head of the body said.
Starting the wildfire prevention season earlier, and it "reassures us because it means we will be prepared 25 days ahead of time," he added.
State of exceptionality
The Catalan government announced a state of exceptionality due to the ongoing drought in a total of 495 towns.
The drought has now been ongoing for 30 months in Catalonia and it has left water levels in reservoirs at critically low levels, which has knock-on effects for forest fire prevention.
Restrictions in the zones deemed to be in a state of exceptionality, which currently covers most of Catalonia, will mean that water use for agriculture will be reduced by 40%, while industry and leisure will see 15% reductions.
A cap will be placed on personal use of 230 liters per person per day. Yet, authorities have previously pointed out that this figure is far higher than the average daily personal use of around 117 liters per day.
Reservoirs at 25% capacity
After months without significant rainfall, reservoirs in Catalonia are at 25% capacity as of May 5, 2023, according to the Catalan Water Agency.
Learn more about the issue by listening to the Filling the Sink podcast episode from September 2022.