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Barcelona 2024 Drought Emergency | Barcelona Sequía

After over 1000 days of drought what is the impact of the Barcelona water drought for tourists and residents of Catalonia?

Updated: Jun 28, 2024 by: Barcelona Travel hacks Views: 1.3k

About the Barcelona Drought

After more than 1,000 days of drought sequía de Catalunya, Catalonia declares a water emergency and places usage restrictions on the citizens of Barcelona and surrounding towns.

500mm of rain needs to fall in Catalonia to make up the water deficit because water reserves have fallen below 16% which is the threshold for triggering a water emergency declaration. In some areas of Catalonia it has not rained for three years and is considered the worst drought in modern history.

Agriculture and industry also have restrictions. The regional emergency declaration aims to reduce water for crop irrigation by 80%, for livestock by 50% and for industry by 25%. The Tarragona region is fed by the Ebro river and currently has better water reserves. Emergency Measures are already in place in the farming regions in the north of Catalonia (Girona province) including a 20% reduction in agricultural irrigation.

While Spain has always suffered from droughts, climatologists generally agree that the periods between rainfall are getting longer as temperatures continue to rise.

UPDATE 16th May 2024: April and May 2024 have produced rainfall and the water reserves have increased from 15% to 26%, lowering the severity from Emergency to Exceptionality in almost 100% of the Catalonian territory including Barcelona city. Continue reading to find out how this impacts tourism and residents.

Drought Impact & Water Usage Restrictions in Barcelona

  1. A ban on watering public parks in Barcelona. The city's 35,000 trees will be minimally watered with ground water to keep them alive.
  2. Beaches in Catalonia which had fresh water showers will no longer be providing these free showers.
  3. Ornamental fountains such as Montjuïc Magic Fountain, Parc Cuitadella Fountain and Pedralbes Gardens Fountains will not be running water jets.
  4. Public and private swimming pools will close Except for those in municipal sports centres. Some pools are adapting to use sea water. The filling of private swimming pools will continue to be prohibited.
  5. Water parks and ice rinks that use fresh water are closed.
  6. Vehicles may only be washed in commercial carwash establishments with water recirculation systems.
  7. Prohibition of lawn irrigation, with the exception of surfaces used for federated sports, where irrigation can be maintained at half the current allocation. Irrigation for tree survival is permitted, using the minimum amount of water necessary.
  8. The use of drinking water to clean streets, sewers, pavements, façades, etc., whether public or private, is prohibited unless necessitated by an accident or fire or if there is a risk to health or road safety
  9. Drinking water fountains may be shut off in the Summer.

Drought Impact & Restrictions for Residents

Plans were considered to reduce water pressure but have been shelved for the moment because Barcelona's citizens are keeping within a daily consumption limit. Because nearly everyone lives in blocks of flats and a pressure drop would discriminate against those living on upper floors the plan at the moment is deemed unfeasible.

Barcelona Drought Protocol is currently in force which establishes alert levels depending on the reserves of water.


Water consumption limits are placed on Residents (per inhabitant per day) depending on the alert level. This is controlled and monitored through the water bill.

  1. Alert: fixed at an average of 250 litres
  2. Exceptionality: 230 litres
  3. Pre-emergency: 210 litres
  4. Emergency Level I: 200 litres
  5. Emergency level II: 180 litres
  6. Emergency level III: 160 litres

For context, a 10-minute shower uses on average 200 litres of water. According to the latest data from the National Statistics Institute, Spaniards use an average of 133 litres of water per day.

At the time of writing this article on February 16th 2024 the alert level is Emergency Level I in Barcelona City. The current alert level can be checked here on this GenCat (Generalitat de Catalunya) government website which has a map showing the current alert level for all areas of Catalonia.

Drought Impact & Restrictions for Tourists

The Barcelona City Council held a meeting in December 2023 with hoteliers and tourist industry representatives to discuss ways to reduce water consumption in Barcelona.

Although Barcelona residents consume an average 163 litres per day, high water consumption in hotels remains a concern. On average five-star hotels use 545.5 litres of water per tourist daily, while four-star hotels use 373 litres, three-star hotels use 232 litres, and two-star hotels use 165 litres. Swimming pool and jacuzzi facilities contribute significantly to this consumption.

Posters and awareness campaigns are present in the Airport and hotels are adapting facilities to use less water. Hotel swimming pools are changing from fresh water to sea water and guests are encouraged to take showers rather than baths.

Starting on February 1st 2024, consumption is set at 200 litres (53 gallons) per person per day which is a target that hotels must meet by adapting their infrastructure to consume less. In case of drought emergency level I, this target is reduced to 100 litres (26 gallons).

Should You Travel to Barcelona During Drought?

The worst case scenario is that water is restricted to 160 litres per inhabitant per day. If you do come then there may be water rationing and baths not available in the hotel, only showers. The Mediterranean is where most tourists go to swim but the beach side showers will not be available this year. swimming pools may be filed with filtered sea water, not fresh water.

If you come from a country with an abundance of water then be mindful about what you consume when in Barcelona and understand that fresh tap water is produced at a high cost and not an infinite resource.

Currently The Generalitat (Catalan local Government - GenCat) have not published a policy for restricting tourist numbers in 2024 because March and April are typically the rainy months of the year and the rains so far have increased the water reserves from 15% to 26% (as of 16th of May).

This is a fluid situation (pun intended!) and this Catalan Government water reserves graphic gives an indication of what, if any, restrictions may be placed on tourists and residents.

Is tap water safe to drink in Barcelona?

Yes! The tap water is drinkable in Barcelona and undergoes the same treatment processes as anywhere else in the world. You can brush your teeth with it, drink it, wash your face with it, bath and shower in it etc. Lets scotch that myth about drinking water in Spain being unsafe because it is pure nonsense.

Public drinking fountains also dispense tap water that is drinkable. The only time you may come across a fountain that is not for drinking is where it is clearly signposted as Agua no potable but in a drought these fountains will be turned off as a non essential water supply. The image on the right is for a drinking water fountain in Barcelona.

Many people say that the Barcelona tap water does not have a good taste but I think it is palatable for treated water. Although nowadays a lot of the residents drink bottle mineral water, usually purchased in large 5 or 8 litre plastic bottles from the supermarket.

As a tourist around the city you will find bottled mineral water sold everywhere in 500ml, 1, litre, 1.5 litre and 2 litre bottles. This is the third consecutive year of drought in Barcelona and there has never been a shortage of bottled drinking mineral water.

Currently Where Does Barcelona's Water Come From?

Catalonia has many reservoirs and rivers that are used as water reserves and feed the water treatment plants that provide fresh drinking water to Barcelona. The water reserves in Catalonia as of May 2024 are at 26%. However, since the 2008 drought, Catalonia has invested heavily in water supply security to have on demand systems like sea water desalination.

0% Sau Reservoir

The Sau Reservoir near the village of Tavertet was a large source of water for Barcelona city and the surrounding towns but currently the reservoir is almost empty at only 5% capacity and the sunken village ruins of Vilanova de Sau are fully exposed as is the bottom of the lake bed.

35% The Barcelona Sea Water Desalination Plant

ITAM Llobregat is Europe's largest sea water desalination plant which started construction in 2007 with inauguration in 2009 and was ordered after the 2008 drought. The plant has a capacity of 200,000m³/day which supplies the city with 33% of its drinking water with a further 25% coming from recycled wastewater.

However, it costs three times as much to produce a litre of desalinated water through reverse osmosis as it does to take water from rivers and reservoirs. The energy used to power the plant is not 100% from renewable sources yet so this does contribute to the global emissions and the climate emergency.

Note that for every 100 litres of sea water processed, 45 litres of drinking water is extracted while 55 litres of waste brine is left over.

The seawater catchment system in the Llobregat ITAM are two towers 30 meters deep and 2.2km from the coast. Seawater reaches a pumping station that is located on the beach and then through a 3 km long pipe, which runs parallel to the sea and passes under the Llobregat River, reaches the desalination plant.

Pre-treatment consists first of a flotation, a gravity-opened filtration, a closed pressure filtration and finally cartridge filters.

The reverse osmosis system desalinates water from pre-treatment by membranes. Brine-concentrated energy is recovered with an energy recuperator system (ERI), energy that passes into the new feed water.

To reach the standards for drinking water, the outlet water of the membranes must be remineralised by passing it through a bed with calcium carbonate (calcite).

The desalination plant has no tanks for storing treated water. It is pumped to the tanks of Fonanta, using a pipe about 12 km long.

The brine produced is sent to the balance tower of the Lower Llobregat sewage treatment plant and is mixed with the purified water effluent that it pours into the sea, 3 km from the coast and at 60 meters deep.

>20% Barcelona's Llobregat & Besòs Rivers

The Llobregat river which originates in the Serra del Cadí and flows into the sea just south of the city by Barcelona Airport at the Llobregat Delta provides some drinking water.

The river water has high mineralisation (Potassium, Magnesium and Carbonates) because it crosses a salty region around the municipality of Súria containing Cardona Natural Salt mine, 75 kilometres north-west of Barcelona. Additional water is also sourced from the Ter and Besòs rivers.

Aigües de Barcelona water board treats the water and supplies it to the city as well as 23 other townships using one of the most complex and advanced water treatment plants in Europe to produce a maximum of 457,920m³/day.

River water is transported to the ETAP plant where a process similar to the desalinisation plant is carried out to produce drinking water. This depends on the availability of water in the rivers which in turn depends on snow melt from the Pyrenees.

Historic Sources of Water in Barcelona

0% Besòs Aquifer

Provided Barcelona with drinking water until 1895 but the aquifer was contaminated with salt water when the Besòs water tower drew in to much water under suction causing the aquifer to be comtaminated with sea water.

0% Vallvidrera Reservour

Vallvidrera Reservoir was built from 1850 to 1860 by architect Elias Rogent to guarantee a supply of water to the Sarria district of Barcelona. The dam measures 50 metres wide by 3 metres thick and 15 metres high. The reservoir can hold up to 18 thousand square metres of water. The base is hollow and contains a tunnel that is used for draining the cement and inspection of the wall. The reservoir fell into disuse in the 1960s due to it filling up with sediment. Today the reservoir and dam is being preserved as part of the Parc natural Collserola but it does not contain any water and is a dry dust bowl. The last time I saw water in it was in 2017.

Thanks for reading about Barcelona 2024 Drought Emergency | Barcelona Sequía

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