October 26, 2022
Luis Castillo: ‘Water and energy are truly inseparable. They must be considered as one if we are to ensure water security and protect agriculture.’
Droughts are causing countless problems across numerous sectors, such as agriculture, and are even resulting in restrictions being placed on the use of water throughout Spain.
Luis Castillo, Head of the Hydraulic Infrastructure Section at Ayesa, highlighted just how important engineering and hydraulic infrastructure are in helping us overcome these challenges.
Many regions and river authorities have declared an official drought. What’s the situation in Spain? It is the same all over the country?
Yes. The current situation is generally the same throughout Spain and even in areas in the North, where we’ve very rarely seen issues with water shortages. For example, Busturialdea, in the Basque Country, is seeing its drinking water being supplied by tankers, which arrive at the port of Bermeo.
Are droughts a cyclical issue?
Yes, droughts, just as years of heavy rainfall and flooding, are cyclical in Spain as well as in more and more regions around the world. In terms of Spain, we really shouldn’t be that surprised as we’ve had numerous droughts over the years, the result of our geography. We know that every ten years or so, we get a few years with very little rainfall, something that leads to water shortages.
What is the reason behind this?
The causes are very varied: ocean currents, the wind, sea temperature, etc. It’s an extremely complex science, which depends on many factors and only experts in meteorology and climatology can answer the question fully.
What risks are we currently facing?
Except for a few isolated cases, solutions for which are being worked on, the country’s drinking water supply is practically guaranteed. Having said that, ensuring the supply of water for irrigating crops is much more difficult and by no means guaranteed. When you consider the fact that there are 3.5 million hectares of irrigated land across Spain (900,000 of which are in Andalusia), the challenge becomes apparent. Irrigated agriculture is one of the pillars of our economy and provides us with much of the food we need, which is why it’s so important we do everything in our power to ensure its future. What’s more, we must increase the amount of hydroelectricity we generate, and particularly our pumped-storage capacity.
What can be done by engineers?
As engineers, there are a number of different things we need to be doing. Certain systems should be strengthened by connecting them to each other. For example, in terms of supply, all built-up areas of a certain size should be connected to a regulating reservoir. What’s more, we should look at increasing regulation in certain river basins, such the Douro. In Andalusia, the Gibralmedina dam is being designed. Once completed, this will help guarantee the supply of water to the Costa del Sol as well as allow more tropical crops to be grown around the lower reaches of the River Guadiaro.
Also in Andalusia, we need to increase the capacity of certain desalination plants and, of course, finish building those that are underway. In terms of treatment and reuse, it’s important we continue investing in order to ensure absolutely no raw sewage is pumped into our seas and rivers. It’s also essential we look after our rivers from an ecological point of view, given that they form part of our country’s intangible heritage. It’s also crucial water isn’t used as a political weapon and that we work for the common good.
What is the quality of water infrastructure like in Spain compared to other countries?
Our water infrastructure is truly impressive. We have more than 1,200 large-scale dams and around 65 desalination plants along our coastline, which serve coastal regions as well as extremely high-yield crops. This means that even during severe droughts, such as the one we’re currently seeing, we’re able to cope with an influx of 40 million tourists each summer. For the time being, other countries in Europe simply don’t need the same level of infrastructure, although I do think they should start looking to the future.
In terms of the conditions of our water infrastructure, I’d say they’re acceptable, although perhaps not as good as before the economic crisis and consequent cuts. We’re once again seeing investment being made in maintaining and looking after our water infrastructure. However, it’s important a long-term approach is adopted in this area, designed to maximise the lifespan of existing infrastructure as well as add to it. Water security is key to the country’s future. A key part of this are dams, which we must go to great efforts to ensure are kept in optimal conditions.
Is there anything we can do as individuals to help?
I think we just need to be responsible, aware of how important it is that we look after the environment and make an effort not to waste water. Although we still have a long way to go when it comes to digitalisation, I know some irrigation associations successfully use apps and digital tools to raise awareness amongst their members and maximise efficiency, even during periods of drought. This is something we must do together.
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