The Rain in Spain (2008)

Many guiris are surprised by the lengthy weather coverage on Spanish TV, with some guy standing in front of an isobar-lined map waving his hands in the air. Regional stations like TV3 (video above) take the forecast a step further to include sea conditions, detailed explanations of weather phenomena, live camera feeds throughout the country, photos sent by viewers and, last but not least, the state of Catalunya’s water reserves in terms of percent capacity. Why? Because the natives love to worry about the weather. When it rains, they get pretty grumpy. Quina pluja, eh?, they’ll say, glancing at the sky with a scowl. But when it doesn’t rain, they get antsy. A veure quan plou, eh?, they mutter, squinting in the sunlight. Wet, dry, hot or cold, the weather is met with scepticism and a dose of innate pessimism, to be elaborated on at length with friends and strangers alike.

The church of Sau is the national watermark... at left during the 2008 drought, and at right one year later. Yes, it is the same church spire in both photos.

Rain is the star of the weather in Spain. And no, it doesn’t fall mainly on the plain, at least not anymore. Actually, it doesn’t fall mainly anywhere at all, which is one of the reasons it gets so much attention. Catalunya is in the third year of an ongoing drought which is literally sucking it dry. Water reserves are at historic lows, agriculture is damaged and forests have become tinderboxes. Emergency water rationing plans are already on the table, but the issue, beyond the lack of water, includes the question of how the water is used or abused. Certainly, for a water-strapped territory, our adoptive homeland has not been very coherent in applying sustainability guidelines. The Mediterranean coast in particular has been overrun with secondary homes with swimming pools, hotels and golf courses (huge water consumers), with little concern over the capacity of existing reserves. The bottom line is that the construction sector has prevailed over the common good, and now the chickens are coming home to roost. The dry spell just emphasizes the underlying problem: the growth in construction is on a collision course with other strategic sectors such as agriculture and tourism. Because come the water crunch, the first cuts are for irrigation of agriculture, gardens and pools, which will sink farming directly, and present tourists with an attractive scenario of brown lawns and empty pools.

Update 2010: It rained again, and plenty. Water reserves are now at historic highs. But the tourist hotels, homes and pools lie empty all the same due to the crisis, and the construction sector has gone the way of the dodo. Oh well. At least we still have the water and the agriculture.

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