The driest province in Europe is starting to suffer as its water runs out. Decades of over-exploitation of water resources, coupled with a lack of investment in the infrastructure is finally causing Almería serious problems.
Although the coastal regions are now living off their desalination plants, crumbling infrastructure means half the water produced is lost to leaks and cannot be shipped inland to the mountain villages.
Olula de Castro is a prime example. Despite having lost half its population in the last two decades, this tiny village of just 146 people has run out of water after wells ran dry. Since the beginning of the year water has been shipped in by lorry, and it is strictly prohibited to use water for any use other than basic human needs.
Mayor Christian Quero said: “A study by the provincial council estimates our aquifers are at less than 15 percent. We have had to close down our wells.”
Turrillas is on the mountain range opposite but in the same situation. Water is provided only between 1pm and 9pm. Senés, Tahal and Las Tres Villas all suffer the same fate.
Larger mountain villages such as Vélez Blanco are gloomily expecting water rationing if the drought does not break soon.
Industrial farming is seen as the cause of the problem, as farms empty aquifers to feed their trees and plants. A boom in olive and fruit tree farming across Sorbas and Tabernas has been linked by local residents to a drop in underground aquifer levels.
More than 750 million euros has been spent on desalination plants in the last decade, but is still suffering a water shortage of 73 billion litres this year. Although five plants have been built, only three are partly functional.
Galasa, the water company that supplies the east and north of the province, has to buy its water from the desalination plants. It is estimated that more than 50 percent of its water is lost to leaks, a loss which has driven the company into 37 million euro debt. As reported recently in Costa Almería News, the company wants to increase its rates to compensate and refuses to pay to fix the leaks in urban areas.
Roquetas last week increased water bills by 53 percent. More than 80 percent of the towns water comes from desalination plants.
Remember they voted to increase the rates
The ruling council of Galasa, the publicly owned company that supplies water in the Levante and Almanzora area, has voted to increase water rates by a minimum of 32 percent.
But the complicated legal structure around water supply means the rate increase is not automatic. Local villages must now vote in plenary session on whether or not to apply the new tariffs in their areas, although moves are afoot in the provincial council to remove this right from them.
The new tariff was voted for by the provincial council (controlled by the PP party), PP controlled villages and the IU controlled town of Turre. All PSOE members voted against the measure.
The PSOE say that the increase is unnecessary, as Galasa is improperly run and loses 43 percent of its water in leaks. A PSOE study suggests the company spends €2,5 million a year in desalinated water which is lost in leaks.
But the provincial council says that leaks in urban areas are down to local councils to fix, and that Galasa is legally unable to upgrade infrastructure in villages. Local councils reject this and are demanding a plan of action from Galasa and the provincial council.
As councils can set their own water rates, the company’s prices change from town to town. Although the coastal villages pay a standard price approved by the provincial council, mountain villages in the Almanzora continue with their historically low prices. The new tariff establishes a fixed price for water, promising a whopping 120 percent raise for some consumers.
The provincial council, led by the PP, is planning to force through a motion to remove this right from local councils. The law states that it is up to the local public authority to set water tariffs, and the PP has suggested that this right should be taken away from Galasa member villages and lodged with the provincial council.
Galasa is a public utility company owned 53 percent by the provincial council, and the rest by the villages which use its services. The company is running at a loss, with a debt of more than €37 million. In May the electricity company cut off supplies to its offices after Galasa was unable to service a €1,5 million debt, and its Vera HQ continues to run off generators. The directors of finance, planning and human resources are currently on medical leave due to stress.