Barcelona Ships in Water – Pt 3

Posted: May 27th, 2008 by: h2

Last week saw Barcelona receive it’s first shipments of water from France to alleviate it’s massive water shortage.

I’m going to follow this story for a while to see when the first major news source points to overpopulation coupled with the drought. Currently the best they seem able to do is tell us that Barcelona has about 5 million plus people, but it seems to be too much of reach for anyone to say that the arid land simply cannot support that population.

Barcelona is a preview of what’s going to happen in the American Southwest, with Los Angeles, San Diego, Las Vegas, and many other large metropolitan areas built in the desert soon to face the same issues as their water supplies become increasingly impacted by global warming initiated snowpack loss, overpopulation, and of course, a lifestyle that is simply absurd to even consider realistically in a desert in the first place.

Barcelona is a dry city. It is dry in a way that two days of showers can do nothing to alleviate. The Catalan capital’s weather can change from one day to the next, but its climate, like that of the whole Mediterranean region, is inexorably warming up and drying out. And in the process this most modern of cities is living through a crisis that offers a disturbing glimpse of metropolitan futures everywhere.

The political battles now breaking out here could be a foretaste of the water wars that scientists and policymakers have warned us will be commonplace in the coming decades. The emergency water-saving measures Barcelona adopted after winter rains failed for a second year running have not been enough. The city has had to set up a “water bridge” and is shipping in water for the first time in the history of this great maritime city.

A tanker from Marseilles with 36 million litres of drinking water unloaded its first cargo this week, one of a mini-fleet contracted to bring water from the Rhone every few days for at least the next three months. So humbled was Barcelona when prolonged drought forced it to ship in domestic water from Tarragona, 50 miles south along the Catalan coast, 12 days ago, that city hall almost delayed shipment and considered an upbeat publicity campaign to lift morale and international prestige.
Spain’s drought: a glimpse of our future?,, 24 May 2008

The whole country is suffering from its worst drought in 40 years and the shipments from Tarragona prompted an outcry from regions who insist they need it more. For now the clashes are being soothed by intervention from Madrid, and plans to ship water from desalination plants in parched Almeria in Andalusia are shelved until October. But there is little indication of a strategy to deal not just with an immediate emergency but an ongoing crisis. Buying water on an epic scale from France has given the controversy an international aspect as French environmentalists question whether such a scarce natural resource should be sold as a commodity to another country.

Water is now Catalans’ principle worry: 43 per cent considered shortage the country’s main problem. Authorities promise the crisis will ease when a huge desalination plant comes on stream next year. But they say little about how to tackle the long-term problem of water shortage afflicting the whole Mediterranean region. Catalan winemakers recognise that the change is permanent; some are planting new vineyards further north as traditional terrain becomes hotter and dryer.

Spain’s Socialist government recognises that climate change will intensify water shortages, and favours desalination plants. One such plant, among the biggest in Europe – and 75 per cent EU funded – is being built on the outskirts of Barcelona and will supply 20 per cent of the city’s water. But it will not be ready until next year.

“It was already very important when it was planned, but now with the urgent drought, it has become indispensable,” said Tomas Azurra, the chief engineer at the plant.

Ecologists warn that desalination plants are costly in energy use, and damage the environment with high CO2 emissions. But developed European regions can afford them, and they’re preferable to diverting water from rivers, which critics say is even more damaging.
Spain’s drought: a glimpse of our future?,, 24 May 2008

What can you really say? Water is about as real as it gets. When the conversation gets close to such matters, however, people begin to turn off their brains, preferring to simply not hear, or think, about what a real limit is.

I hope that at some point, people will start taking regional responsibility for their populations, whether we’re talking about water, food, energy, or whatever. In other words, the localism that Kunstler is so fond of talking about, for very good reason: it’s very hard to come up with a rational sustainable schema that is not local.

This would of course also entail extracting the region from global production systems, especially global food production, fertilizers, seeds, the whole corporate agriculture junk without which the earth might be able to start on its way towards sustainability, but with which nothing but more of the same, only worse, will happen as the years pass us by.

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