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Growers at the Vega de Maro are looking in to replacing dying avocado trees with drought resistant crops. D. Paris
Finding solutions to the drought crisis

Finding solutions to the drought crisis

From owners of holiday accommodation to estate agents, wine makers, growers and those looking to relocate to the Axarquía area, the foreign community is adapting to the restrictions

Friday, 11 August 2023, 19:10

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The current level of La Viñuela reservoir. With just over 15 cubic hectometres stored, the authorities are bringing water from Malaga city and Nerja's Chíllar river to the Axarquía

The drought in the Axarquía is having an impact on all sectors, from growers and wine-makers to property and tourism. La Viñuela reservoir has dropped to historically low levels and is currently at 8.6 per cent capacity and restrictions have been put in place throughout the area.

SUR has been reporting on these restrictions, which include nighttime water cuts and restrictions on filling and refilling swimming pools and watering gardens as well as advocating saving water in the home.

This week it was reported that this year's grape harvest started two weeks earlier than usual because of the lack of rain in spring and the mango season, which will begin in late summer, followed by the avocado season, which starts in mid-November, is forecast to see 70 per cent less fruit than in previous years.

The hospitality industry has also made the news and is in talks with the authorities to find a balance between saving water and helping businesses that are dependent on tourism.

Agriculture

A number of foreign residents work in the sectors affected by the drought, including agriculture, and while traditional crops including olives and grapes are still grown, the boom in avocados and mangoes has meant that the native species, which are much more resilient to the drier Mediterranean climate, have been replaced by subtropical fruit.

While work is being done by the authorities to bring regenerated water from treatment plants and other sources to the area's growers, both David Paris, who has been farming on the Vega de Maro land for 10 years and Clara Verheij from Bodegas Bentomiz in Sayalonga, agree that it is time for the authorities and indeed growers to refocus on native and more drought-resilient species.

They are both starting to feel the effects of the drought and are looking at ways to adapt their businesses to the changing climate.

Clara and her husband André have been running Bodegas Bentomiz since 2005. She pointed out that the grapes that they cultivate in their vineyards, such as the Romé and Tinto de Jaén varieties "require very little water" and would normally produce good yields with just rainwater.

Top, Bodegas Bentomíz in Sayalonga; bottom a water tank system and digging a hole to install one. Rina Batchelor / SJP & Sons
Imagen principal - Top, Bodegas Bentomíz in Sayalonga; bottom a water tank system and digging a hole to install one.
Imagen secundaria 1 - Top, Bodegas Bentomíz in Sayalonga; bottom a water tank system and digging a hole to install one.
Imagen secundaria 2 - Top, Bodegas Bentomíz in Sayalonga; bottom a water tank system and digging a hole to install one.

However, she said that because of the lack of rain in recent years, they are starting to consider watering the vines. "By irrigating them perhaps five times a year they would have enough water. It's not raining enough at the moment for the vines to survive without it."

Although this year's harvest has produced fewer grapes, Clara said, "It amazes me how the vines work to produce very healthy grapes, there are just a lot fewer of them."

She added that she is positive about the future but would like to see "more support for viticulture and for people who are focusing on native species" and that more needs to be done to manage the drought situation.

For David and the BAM organic farmers in the Vega de Maro, the effects are being felt with a dwindling supply of water. As the community only has access to water once a week, it means that not everyone gets enough to irrigate their crops.

"This is leading to tension among growers as there is not enough water to fill up everyone's tanks. If you're the last to fill your tank, the water might have even run out by the time it's your turn," he explained.

David pointed out that while there are some subtropical trees there, they are not grown on a big scale like in other areas of the Axarquía. "I think it's ok to have one or two trees for your own use. The problem is that they are being grown on a commercial scale."

He pointed out that he is not replacing subtropical trees when they die off, but is looking to introduce more native and drought-resilient plants instead. Like Clara, David remains optimistic and explains that as well as different plant species, he and his fellow growers are also looking into more sustainable irrigation systems. "There are many things we can do. We just have to adapt and become more resilient," he said.

Swimming pools

It has been reported that swimming pools are causing tension among residential communities, with some able to fill theirs up through the use of water tankers, while others have either not opened at all or opened at the start of summer, only to close again.

Not being able to fill them is causing concern among people trying to sell property. Owner of Yes! Properties in Vélez-Málaga, Eleanor Hurst, told SUR in English that sellers in particular are worried that unfilled swimming pools are putting off buyers and she warns that if by next year the sector hasn't "planned and prepared for this problem" it will "start to be negatively affected and also affect local businesses who struggle to meet customer's needs."

Eleanor remains positive, though: "The obvious reality, despite the growing drought problem, is that we have a lot of water in front of our eyes; the Mediterranean, we just need to learn to manage it better."

One potential buyer is Jenny Drayden who lives in the UK, but is "in the planning stages" of a move to the Axarquía. Concerned about the reports she has heard about the drought, she recently posted on a local Facebook page,. "I wanted to make sure we don't add to the burden of fresh water provision when we settle there," Jenny told SUR in English.

She has found local companies that may be able to help her out. One of those is Benamargosa- based SJP & Sons which has been in the Axarquía for 22 years and is owned by Scott Porter. They replied to Jenny's Facebook post.

Scott's son George explained to SUR in English that there are a number of solutions available to capture grey and black water, which can be used to water plants and wash cars and so on.

George also explained that a system to filter water and put it back into swimming pools, as well as a good cover to prevent evaporation, will keep the water in the pool without needing to top it up. While he admits that these systems "aren't cheap" he recognises that the population is going to have to adapt to a drier climate without guaranteed rain and plan now for the immediate and longer-term future. "There are so many things you can do to save water, including collecting water from air conditioning units and dehumidifiers," he said.

Hospitality industry

As the hospitality industry is in talks with authorities to find a balance between saving water and tourism, Maurice Jonker and his partner Paul run a bed and breakfast business in Cómpeta say that they make sure guests are aware of the situation. "As we are at the height of summer, the majority of people still come as they have been planning this holiday for a long time".

"Paul and I lived in Cape Town where they put out extreme measures and each person per household was only allowed 50 litres per day. Over-usage carried a hefty fine and we are still very conscious of water usage which we pass on to our guests."

He added: "We would shower with buckets between our legs and use it to water plants or flush the loo. It was quite common back then to hear 'if its yellow, let it mellow; if its brown, flush it down'. Funnily enough we still to this day live by that rule. It's amazing how inventive one can become."

The Conde de Guadalhorce reservoir. J. L. E.

The Conde de Guadalhorce reservoir in Ardales has just sunk to its lowest level of reserves in history.

The dam, one of the main sources of water for Malaga city and the Guadalhorce valley was, on Monday 7 August, at just 19.27% of its capacity, with 12.81 cubic hectometres of water, according to data from the Junta de Andalucía's Hidrosur Network.

The only other time water reserves were recorded this low in the dam was on 14 November in 2005, during another period of severe drought, when the reservoir reached 12.9 cubic hectometres, 19.4% of its capacity.

The Conde de Guadalhorce is the second reservoir in the province to record a historical low this year. At the end of June, for the first time in its 34-year history.

Restrictions extended

Almogía, Villanueva de la Concepción, part of Antequera and Valle de Abdalajís are the latest areas to be affected by nighttime cuts to their water supply, adding to the eight places that are already experiencing restrictions.

These latest restrictions start at either 6pm or 8pm and last until 8am the following day, while in Valle de Abdalajís the cuts are from 11pm to 7am.

In the village of Benamargosa in the Axarquía the town hall has started inspections of water meters to detect possible illegal connections and has said it will issue fines of up to 3,000 euros for "irregular consumption".

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