Severe water shortage: drought in southern Europe: are shower bans and empty pools imminent?

If you go to the beach in Barcelona these days when the temperature is well over 20 degrees, you have to be prepared to wait in line.

Severe water shortage: drought in southern Europe: are shower bans and empty pools imminent?

If you go to the beach in Barcelona these days when the temperature is well over 20 degrees, you have to be prepared to wait in line. The capital of Catalonia has only one shower in operation per beach. The reason: an extreme drought that has lasted for many months, which has now even led to restrictions on water consumption in over 200 communities in the region in north-eastern Spain. Similar, albeit less serious, problems exist in Andalusia and other European holiday paradises. Shortly before the start of the summer season, not only the tourism industry is worried. More and more Southern Europe fans in Germany and elsewhere are asking themselves: Do I have to reckon with drained pools and shower bans on vacation?

The concerns are not unjustified: in Catalonia, the reservoirs are only 26 percent full on average. A year ago it was 58 percent. It has been raining extremely little in the region since autumn 2021. Experts speak of the worst drought in Catalonia since records began in 1914. The malaise is largely attributed by researchers to human-caused climate change.

"Because of climate change, we have to expect that droughts will be even more frequent, more intense and longer lasting in the coming decades," warns Javier Martín Vide, professor of physical geography at the University of Barcelona. Even in the short term, the situation is not rosy. "There is no end in sight to this drought."

Despite the water-saving measures decided at the end of February, the water levels continue to drop rapidly. Farmers have to consume 40 percent less water, industry 15. Among other things, the irrigation of public and private green spaces and the cleaning of streets with drinking water are prohibited. Plans to ban the filling of hotel pools and swimming pools have recently been shelved. But the private households in the affected areas with a total of six million inhabitants will hardly be able to enjoy their pools, among other things because of a consumption limit of 230 liters per capita and day.

If it's that bad now, what will it be like in the summer, when it's raining less anyway, tourists are arriving in droves and water consumption is drastically increasing again? Especially since Spain expects a record number of visitors in 2023. In Lloret de Mar, which is also popular with Germans, 100,000 tourists join the 40,000 residents in summer. In August, the "population" grew from 265,000 to around 1.2 million along the entire Costa Brava.

The Catalan water authority ACA has given the all-clear – at least for the time being: The summer tourist flows were taken into account in the restriction measures, so that the water should be sufficient, said ACA boss Samuel Reyes. But visitors should definitely feel the problem - for example in hotels that are already reducing the water pressure with energy-saving shower heads.

What about other popular holiday destinations? In Italy, people are worried, especially in the north. In particular, Lake Garda, which is popular with tourists, and the Po, Italy's largest river, suffer from extremely low water levels. But the tourism industry is also thinking about business and complains about a "drought campaign" that could lead to massive image damage and a drop in visitor numbers in the region. There are "alarmist reports," it says.

"No one hides that this is an exceptional situation, but the current water level of Lake Garda does not endanger any of the most important tourist or sporting activities that take place here," the newspaper "L'Adige" quoted a representative of the Tourist Board of the Lake Garda Region as saying . However, guests and employees are encouraged to save water.

Meanwhile, the drought is even creating new attractions that attract tourists. Catalonia's authorities had to restrict access to the Sau reservoir north of Barcelona last summer because of the influx of people wanting to see the otherwise submerged 11th-century Church of Sant Romá. At the beginning of the year, to the delight of many, the island of San Biagio on Lake Garda was suddenly accessible on foot due to the lack of water.

However, it is undisputed that tourism increases the pressure on biodiversity and water supplies. In France, too, most holidaymakers come exactly when water is at its scarcest in summer. Crowding of visitors has led to severe erosion in part of the Calanques National Park near Marseille. In the meantime, Sugiton Bay can only be visited by reservation.

However, the industry is confident. "Already last year, the drought was worrying, but above all the professionals in water activities knew how to adapt. The season was very good," said François de Canson, chairman of the French tourism association ADN Tourisme, about the south-west of France. This year, too, the skilled workers would adapt.

In any case, France, where individual areas are heavily dependent on business with holidaymakers, is making efforts to promote sustainable tourism. Like the Spanish Mediterranean island of Mallorca, they want to reduce the ecological footprint of the sector and invest more in sustainable tourism infrastructure.

Greece has not been overly affected by drought so far. The water reservoirs that supply the capital Athens, among others, are well filled. However, on some islands in the southern Aegean, drought has always been a problem; some of them are operated with photovoltaic systems that process seawater into drinking water. However, Greek experts also complain about the consequences of climate change: weather phenomena such as heavy rain and extreme heat waves have increased in recent years.

In the gallery: Last summer, heat waves caused extreme drought in several countries