Portugal and Spain hit by water shortages

Climate change is causing more and more periods of drought on the Iberian peninsula. In Portugal, the drought is having a direct impact on energy production: because the water level in the reservoirs is very low, the government has banned hydroelectric production at several dams. In neighbouring Spain, too, the water levels at reservoirs are very low. Commentators have different views on what can be done to improve the situation.

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Observador (PT) /

Lisbon needs to get tough on Madrid

Writing in Observador, political scientist Ricardo de Oliveira Ai-Ai points to an ongoing conflict over water between Portugal and its neighbouring country:

“Portugal has several problems with water, starting with the obvious lack of rain, which is the main cause of the hydrographic imbalance, then the fact that three of our largest rivers originate in Spain, a neighbour that constantly flouts international conventions and frequently doesn't allow as much water to flow to the Portuguese side as it is obliged to do. This is a recurring situation that the Portuguese government has not tackled with the necessary assertiveness before the supranational European authorities.”

Observador (PT) /

Energy deficits exacerbating the problem

But also commenting in El Observador, engineer and energy expert Mário Guedes says it was too early to take the last coal-fired power plants in Portugal off the grid:

“The most obvious explanation, but possibly not the most correct, would be that it's all due to the lack of rainfall. ... But the loss of power generation from the old Pêgo and Sines coal-fired power plants clearly left the electricity grid in deficit, making it necessary to operate the natural gas combined cycle plants at almost full capacity, import electricity and, finally, resort to hydropower (from dams). So it's quite clear why the water level in the reservoirs is far below normal. Electricity has to be generated.”

La Vanguardia (ES) /

We must learn how to live with this

La Vanguardia calls for a new water policy for Spain:

“The average levels at Spain's reservoirs are already below half their capacity. ... People are criticising that in many parts of the country the reservoirs are no longer performing their original task, namely to reduce or compensate for fluctuations in precipitation. ... Instead, they have become mere transit stations from which water is immediately distributed to meet the excessive demands of agriculture. It must be stressed that the droughts in Spain are not temporary. Climate change will exacerbate their structural character. This requires an urgent change in water policy to improve the management of water which is becoming increasingly scarce - and expensive.”