As the drought situation worsens in the Axarquía, 'D' day has arrived for the area’s subtropical sector. From Saturday 1st October, with the start of the new water year, the 6,306 hectares of farmland that has hitherto been able to access water from La Viñuela reservoir, are no longer able to do so. The growers, who have in the past been allowed to use up to 5,300 cubic metres per hectare per year, have seen how this figure has been reduced to zero.
For the first time in history, the Junta de Andalucía has taken this dramatic decision due to the minimal reserves of the reservoir, which also supplies some 160,000 inhabitants in 14 town and villages across the Axarquía.
Added to the pressure on La Viñuela, other wells in Periana, Comares and now the Molino de las Monjas well in Vélez-Málaga, have dried up. In previous years these wells had provided around 3.6 cubic hectometres every twelve months.
Due to the persistent drought, the La Viñuela dam is only just hovering above 10 per cent of its capacity, with just over 16.7 cubic hectometres. It is on course, barring a miracle, to equal its historic minimum reached at the end of October 2008, when it was left with just 15 cubic hectometres.
However, at that time the water was not cut off to farmers, as the regional administration has now decided to do. Although the decision has not yet been formally communicated to the 60 or so irrigation communities, they have already taken it for granted and are planning without these resources from the dam.
Speaking on Cadena Ser radio last week, the regional delegate for agriculture, Fernando Fernández, justified the measure because the priority, according to current legislation, is human consumption, which includes tourism. A drought management committee is being held via videoconference today, Monday 3 October.
The Axarquía is now dependent on water supplies from the reservoirs of Malaga city and the Chillar river in Nerja to guarantee the supply to the population. From August between 230 and 320 litres per second are being transferred to the western part of the area from Malaga city. Regarding the wells on the Chíllar river, Fernández said again that it is "imminent, in a few days, soon", without specifying more. They will provide between 120 and 150 litres per second for the area of Torrox, Mezquitilla and Lagos.
Fernández said that with these contributions, added to what can continue to be extracted from La Viñuela the supply for human consumption, supply in the Axarquía is guaranteed "for the coming months". However, he did not specify what will happen if the drought continues in Malaga and the Guadalhorce reservoirs, which are at around 30 per cent of their capacity continue to fall.
The communities of growers in the Axarquía have once again asked that the emergency works included in the two drought decrees for Axarquia be accelerated "to the maximum", to enable the use of reclaimed water for irrigation. They are also calling for an increase in water transfers and the construction of a desalination plant, as included in the state hydrological plans.
At the moment, of the 6,306 hectares of the Guaro Plan, only 3,200 hectares are able to receive water from the treatment plants in Vélez-Málaga and Torrox. In the first case, since last November, the Vélez plant has been providing up to 5.2 cubic hectometres per year to the 2,700 hectares of crops located on the right bank of the River Vélez. These resources are costing eight times the price of water from the La Viñuela reservoir.
Meanwhile, in Torrox, the regenerated water from the town’s two treatment plants is undergoing testing and will provide 1.8 cubic hectometres per year for the irrigation of some 520 hectares of crops. Work is expected to be completed in November to adapt the Algarrobo treatment plant, which will be able to provide a further 0.8 hectometres of reclaimed water for the irrigation of another almost 800 hectares.
However, there are still some 2,200 hectares of mainly subtropical fruit which, as of Saturday and until the drought situation is reversed, will be left without any kind of alternative water resource. This situation means that the avocado season, which will start in November, could be seriously damaged if there is no significant rainfall before the end of the year. Agricultural organisations estimated in June that this year's harvest could fall by 50 per cent if there is no significant rainfall.
Last Tuesday, the Junta de Andalucía announced the urgent construction of a new pipeline to connect the Rincón de la Victoria treatment plant with the farms also located on the right bank of the River Vélez. It will be 9.5 kilometres long and will involve an initial estimated investment of 15.3 million euros. The Rincón plant will be able to provide between 2.5 and three cubic hectometres per year for irrigation. The regional government has not specified how long it will take to build this infrastructure, but it is estimated that it will take at least a year.
The infrastructure has been pending for several years, since the Rincón plant already has a system for the reuse of treated water for irrigation of farms, which is currently only used for the Añoreta golf course in Torre de Benagalbón. This pipeline will also be the first step towards a later connection to the Peñón del Cuervo treatment plant in Malaga city, which would provide a further 12 cubic hectometres a year for irrigation.