The reservoirs have enough water for two years but better infrastructure is badly needed

La Concepción, completely full last week.
La Concepción, completely full last week. / JOSELE-LANZA
  • La Concepción had to release the equivalent of a month's consumption in the province, and no date has yet been set for works to begin to enlarge the reservoir

In just one month the province has passed from drought to an abundance of water. The Mediterranean climate is marked by alternating cycles of low and high rainfall, but the problem in this case is that the population of the Costa del Sol continues to grow and so does the need for water resources. Economic sectors such as tourism and agricultura also rely on a plentiful supply of water.

At the end of February the lack of rain was so worrying that the regional government's Ministry of the Environment was preparing to restrict the use of water, especially in the Axarquía region. On 27 February the reservoirs held 205.30 cubic hectometres of water, which was just 33 per cent of capacity. La Viñuela was even worse, containing just over 35 hm3, 21.4 per cent of capacity.

After all the rain that fell in March, what is the situation now? As a general reference, the average measured at Malaga Airport, which is the official measurement for statistical purposes, is 550 litres of rain per square metre a year. Last month there were 224, more than a third of the rain which normally falls in twelve months, according to the Aemet meteorological centre in Malaga. However, the city was one of the places with the lowest rainfall in March. The wettest area was on the boundary between Malaga and Cadiz provinces. For example, around the Guadiaro river and Gaucín area there were nearly 650 litres per square metre.

At a general level, the rainfall was between 205 and 386 hm3, according to the Red Hidrosur, which is part of the Junta de Andalucía's Environmental Department. That is enough water to last for two years, even if it doesn't rain again. However, although the situation has improved in general, it is not the same everywhere.

In the Axarquía, although La Viñuela now holds twice as much water as before, its use for irrigation is still restricted. The last committee meeting decided to maintain the same volume as last year (when the situation was almost identical to this year), at 1.5hm3 in April and 2hm3 in May. There will be another meeting at the end of May to see how much water the reservoir contains and decide on irrigation in the summer. In any case, there will be enough water for 24 months.

In Malaga city and the Guadalhorce valley there is enough water for more than two years and no restrictions are planned for irrigation this summer. The Conde de Guadalhorce, Guadalhorce and Guadalteba reservoirs have doubled their water content, and now contain 227 hm3.

Paradoxes of La Concepción

That is one aspect. The other is that, once again, the situation has highlighted the lack of hydraulic infrastructure in the province. La Concepción reservoir, which supplies much of the Costa del Sol, shows a series of paradoxes which emphasise the fragility of the system. This week, with 61 hm3 it was almost completely full, but its maximum capacity is only 61.85 hm3 and it has to supply one of the most populated areas of Spain. As a backup, Marbella also has a sea water desalination plant which is mainly used when demand is at its peak in the summer.

The second paradox is that the reservoir is very small compared with the basin which it supplies and is the rainiest in the province. And the third is that water which it could have used in the forthcoming months has had to be released from the reservoir to stop it overflowing. A total of 7.12 hm3 were let out from 16 to 18 March. That is almost the amount used in the province in a normal month.

The central and regional governments want to expand La Concepción, but the ideal solution would be to build another reservoir lower down and expand its total capacity to 180 hm3, which would make it the biggest in the province. Alternatively, all the reservoirs could be connected, so water could be used and stored where needed.