High water demand over the summer may mean restrictions are put in place in October

The water treatment plant at El Atabal in Malaga city where there is also a desalination plant.
The water treatment plant at El Atabal in Malaga city where there is also a desalination plant. / SUR
  • There is concern about water levels in the Guadalhorce reservoirs if demand remains as expected and there is no rainfall in the immediate future

The province is facing the remainder of the summer, the time of year with the greatest demand for water, with barely 238 cubic hectometres (hm3) of water in its reservoirs. This is about 35 hm3 fewer than in the same period last year, and the Junta de Andalucía may have to impose restrictions on the use of water from next month, unless there is enough rain beforehand to boost the reserves.

Although the water supply is guaranteed on the Costa del Sol, that is not the case in Malaga city and municipalities such as Vélez-Málaga, Rincón de la Victoria, Moclinejo, Macharaviaya, Totalán, Iznate, El Borge, Benamargosa, Benamocarra, Cútar, Comares and Algarrobo, in the Axarquía region. The amount of water in the reservoirs of La Concepción, Guadalteba, Conde de Guadalhorce, El Limonero, Casasola and La Viñuela has dropped considerably in the past three months. In July and August, their levels dropped by more than 50 hm3. So far this summer, between five and seven hm3 of water has been consumed from the reservoirs alone.

The huge number of tourists is the reason that demand has increased to such an extent. In June, July and August 2016, the reservoirs in Malaga dropped by more than 70 hm3, and August was the month in which most water was consumed (26.55 hm3), compared with 24.82 in July and just over 19 in June.

So far this year, the reduction has been even greater than usual. In June the reservoirs lost 22.12 cubic hectometres, and in July 25.65. August ended with a reduction of more than 25 hm3 because of the increased population and the need for water for irrigation.

According to the Acosol water company, demand on the western Costa del Sol doubles in months such as August. The towns of Torremolinos, Benalmádena, Fuengirola, Mijas, Ojén, Marbella, Istán, Benahavís, Estepona, Casares and Manilva used about 1.5 hm3 per week in peak season (approximately 6.5 hm3 in August).

The CEO of Acosol, Manuel Cardeña, says that about half of the water supplied to the Costa del Sol has come from La Concepción reservoir, which contains about 42 hm3. The remainder is from the desalination plant, water purchased from the ARCGISA company in the Campo de Gibraltar area, and from a few wells.

The problem with La Concepción is that it doesn’t store very much water, and is in danger of drying up before the summer comes to an end.

The reservoirs in the Guadalhorce area (Guadalteba, Guadalhorce y Conde de Guadalhorce), which are the largest suppliers for Malaga city, currently contain about 129 hm3.

The provincial capital used about 5 hm3 in August, the same as in June and July. In September demand reduces somewhat (4.7 hm3 in 2016). Bearing in mind that farmers in the Guadalhorce Valley have an allowance of 25.5 hm3 until 15 September to water their land, it looks as if problems could arise before the end of this hydrological year (30 September) or some time in October.

Malaga does, however, have some extra reserves, i.e. the Casasola reservoir, which contains just over nine hm3, and El Limonero, with ten.

The reservoir in the worst situation is La Viñuela. There have been warnings about it drying up since the second half of July. With barely 46 hm3 stored and a rate of usage of between one and a half and two hm3 per week in August this, the reservoir with the greatest capacity in the province (165 hm3), will end September with barely 40 hm3. This is not enough to satisfy the domestic supply and provide water for irrigation. Irrigation alone accounts for around 20 cubic hectometres a year, while domestic supplies are about 15.

In an attempt to alleviate the situation in the eastern part of Malaga province, the regional government is carrying out two projects to connect the pools in the Chillar river and the pipeline of the Rubite tunnel, so that when it rains the water can run into the reservoir. However, farmers believe these have come too late. They fear that restrictions in October could endanger some crops, especially mangos and avocados. Avocados need more water than mangos, but both rely heavily on irrigation and farmers are concerned that their entire harvest could be lost.