Spaniards Compete for Water Resources

Barcelona is so short of water that officials are planning to import water by sea-borne tankers and to build a pipeline to bring extra water from the River Ebro. Fisherman aren't happy.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is Day to Day. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

And I'm Alex Chadwick.

Coming up, political chaos and violence in Zimbabwe, and the man who discovered and first tried LSD.

Unidentified Man: He thought he was going to die or lose his mind. He had hallucinations. He had a great deal of anxiety, but he also had some of the remarkable perceptual distortions imposed by LSD.

CHADWICK: Remembering Albert Hoffman.

BRAND: First, though, to Spain and a story about water. That country has been gripped by a drought for several years now, and the battle for water resources in different parts of the country is getting stronger. The area is so parched that Barcelona may have to use ships to bring in drinking water this summer.

CHADWICK: But there is another solution. A pipeline that's being built to divert water from the Ebro River but reports Jerome Socolovsky, that is angering many who live and work along the river's banks.

(Soundbite of water)

JEROME SOCOLOVSKY: Ramon Carles (ph) makes his living in the brackish waters at the mouth of the Ebro River. Standing in hip waders as he cleans some clam nets just a few meters from the shore.

Mr. RAMON CARLES (Fisherman, Ebro River): (Spanish spoken)

SOCOLOVSKY: He points to the wooden structures further out where he and his three brothers have bred oysters and muscles for more than 40 years. Every year they take out around 200 tons of shellfish. He said his catch would be worthless, though, without the fresh waters emptied by the Ebro River.

Mr. CARLES: (Spanish spoken)

SOCOLOVSKY: They won't die, but the less water it brings, the less they will grow, he says. The problem with water in Spain is not that the rain falls mainly on the plain, it doesn't. It's that the Atlantic Coast gets most of what does fall, while the Mediterranean Seaboard is much dryer. For decades, Spain redistributed its water with some of Europe's biggest dams and reservoirs and huge water diversion projects.

Four years ago, Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero promised to establish a new water culture. Spaniards would have to adopt their lifestyles to the climate. No more English gardens and arid Murcia or lush golf courses on the Costa del Sol. But with Barcelona's drinking water reservoirs already four-fifths empty, Zapatero's government revered itself and recently approved the construction of a pipeline that would divert water from the Ebro River to the city. The decision baffles fisherman Ramon Carles.

Mr. CARLES: (Spanish spoken)

SOCOLOVSKY: I just don't get it. These people who talk about the new water culture, they say no to water transfers and now that's exactly what they are doing, he says.

(Soundbite of children singing in Spanish)

SOCOLOVSKY: Schoolgirls in traditional white bonnets sing in a festival in the Ebro River town of L'Aldeya. Many young people leave this area when they grow up for Barcelona and other cities on the coast where tourism and industry have boomed. The people left in the delta fear they'll now loose their biggest remaining asset.

(Soundbite of waterfall)

SOCOLOVSKY: This water, coming from the Ebro, floods the rice fields of the delta. In the distance, flamingos stand in the shallow waves.

(Soundbite of birds chirping)

SOCOLOVSKY: Environmentalists say diverting the river could harm the delta's rich and varied bird life. Head up the coast and the pristine nature gives way to overdeveloped beaches in the bustling boulevards of Barcelona. At the Las Ramblas flower market Carolina Payes (ph) says she stopped spraying the plants in her stall and now hand waters them.

Ms. CAROLINA PAYES (Worker, Las Ramblas Flower Market): (Spanish spoken)

SYCLOVSKY: I can't believe the attitude of those people in the Ebro Delta. We need water in Barcelona, she says. If it were the other way around, we would show a lot more solidarity. If you need water, you should take it from wherever you can get it. This is just one example of Spain's water wars. Farmers in the dry southern provinces of Valencia and Murcia, where many of Europe's fruits and vegetables are grown, are also demanding a share of the country's scarce water resources.

The government is building a series of desalination plants, including one for Barcelona. Officials say the Ebro pipeline is only a temporary measure, but the fisherman in the river delta fear the government will simply open the tap next time the city needs water again. For NPR News, I'm Jerome Socolovsky in Barcelona.

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