Worst drought recorded hits Spain’s Catalonia, sparking fears and ingenuity

The Magic Fountain is a popular tourist attraction where coloured jets of water shot up in the air as classical or pop favourites played.

Like fountains across Barcelona, it lies dry and a little forlorn with signs reading: “Fountain turned off due to drought”.

The free musical show at the water feature, which had run for nearly 100 years, is another casualty of what Catalan authorities in northern Spain have described as the “worst drought ever”.

After three years without sustained rainfall, emergency measures were brought at the weekend, which include a ban on refilling swimming pools in hotels or campsites or topping them up unless recycled water is used.

If the heavens do not open in the next few months, Spain may order two ships per day to carry water from Valencia to the Catalan capital, Barcelona port authorities said.

Tourists visiting Catalonia – Spain’s most popular tourist region, which attracted 18 million visitors last year – face the prospect of swimming pool closures as experts predicted pools will inevitably run dry because of spillage and evaporation.

The only exception will be swimming pools used for medical reasons.

Fears for summer

With the lucrative summer tourist season ahead, campsites are exploring ways to use seawater in pools. One option could be bringing seawater to top up pools, but this is expensive.

Washing cars and watering public gardens were banned as part of the first stage of this emergency plan – unless the water comes from an approved recycling system.

Swimming clubs with outdoor pools are exempt – for now – but are banned from using showers. Television reports showed showers being taped up so they could not be used. Beach showers were turned off.

On the beach in Gava, a town south of Barcelona, Lavinia Mestre was taking advantage of unusually hot weather for February to enjoy a quick swim.

“I know some people who have stopped coming to the beach because of the lack of showers. But I bring a bottle and use the seawater to get the sand off my legs,” Mestre, a 20-year-old student, told Al Jazeera.

“I understand why they have turned off the showers and it is not much of a sacrifice in the middle of a drought.”

‘Worst drought ever recorded’

In Barcelona, many have been stirred into action after months without rain.

As Ana Miquel waited for the water to warm in her kitchen, she collected five litres in a bottle.

“We have no choice but to save the water. It is silly to waste the water when we have a chronic drought,” Miquel, 65, a retired hotel executive who lives in Barcelona, told Al Jazeera.

The restrictions affect about six million people in Barcelona and 200 towns, or about 80 percent of the region’s population.

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