La Viñuela reservoir in the Axarquía. Ñito Salas
Water for a year for 1m people pours into reservoirs but drought remains
Drought crisis

Water for a year for 1m people pours into reservoirs but drought remains

Overall water reserves in Malaga province are only at 27 per cent and below where they were last year; the western Costa is in the strongest position

Churs Heredia


Friday, 19 April 2024, 12:14


The full effects of the recent storms on the reservoirs in Malaga province can now be seen more clearly as water running off the mountains continues to drain into them.

The first of the two recent bouts of heavy rain began on 8 March. At that time, the reservoirs in Malaga province including the Costa del Sol had 97 cubic hectometres (hm3) of water in them. Late on Wednesday this week, they had well over 168 hm3. That represents a gain equivalent to the annual water consumption of one million people. (The population of Malaga province, excluding tourists, is 1.75 million).

It is, moreover, a net gain (71 hm3), as it is the result of applying the 'law of the reservoir' - a formula to calculate run-offs, typical consumption, maintaining eco water sites (for wildlife conservation) and substantial water evaporation. In any case, reserves are at a meagre 27.5%, more than 50 hm3 below what they were at this time last year. There is no way out of the drought in sight. In light of this issue, SUR has today organised a forum involving around twenty experts and four panels under the title 'Malaga: how to face up to the drought', sponsored by Cajasur.


hm3of water was in the reservoirs as on Wednesday, 71 more than at the beginning of March, but 50 less than this time last year.

Despite this seemingly good news, the area's reservoirs are only 27.5% full on average, more than 50 hm3 of water in total below where they were this time last year. So, for now, there is no sign of drought measures being called off.

Costa del Sol

The western Costa del Sol area (from Torremolinos to Manilva) is the one that can breathe the easiest. La Concepción reservoir, behind Marbella, had 41.31 hm3 at 5pm on Wednesday this week. On 8 March, before the rains started, there were 15.38 hm3.

This is actually not far off where La Concepción was this time last year as it is a small reservoir that fills up quickly. In addition, the western Costa del Sol will also be helped this summer by improvements to the Marbella desalination plant to the tune of up to 1 hm3 of water per month, with phase 1 of the renovations completed, and the deep wells at Fuengirola and Guadalmansa are also in action.

In fact, forecasts suggest the western Costa will face the autumn with a two-stage drought, going from severe to moderate.

Malaga and Guadalhorce

The reservoirs supplying Malaga city and the Guadalhorce valley are no longer at crisis levels. The reservoirs which include the Guadalteba, Guadalhorce and Conde de Guadalhorce now have 85.13 hm3, but this is a far cry from the 151.44 hm3 they had last year. Malaga city is therefore no longer in a severe drought but the forecasts for the end of the summer are once again in the red.

The Limonero and Casasola reservoirs are considered strategically important reserves to safeguard supplies and yet they can barely supply any water. The city will continue to prioritise resources from deep wells and the Guadalhorce river, and it will stop supplying water at a rate of 270 litres per second to the Axarquía area for the time being.


The eastern region of the Costa del Sol has its reservoir, La Viñuela, at 30.85 hm3. It was at 13.19 at the start of March, so its level has nearly tripled. For the moment, the Axarquía area will have to continue to make the most of the resources of the river Chíllar for irrigation. La Viñuela reservoir, the largest in Malaga province, will have to reach 41.5 hm3 of water in it for any easing of the drought level.

Property administrators

The province has set a per capita consumption limit of 200 litres per day, also affecting areas in the province that do not receive their drinking water from the reservoirs. This limit will be checked by the Junta and controlled at the mains water supplies.


hm3 is the small volume of water permitted to maintain fruit and olive crops in the Guadalhorce area.

This is one of the factors affecting the crucial decision that local councils will soon have to take regarding the filling of community and private swimming pools for this summer. The drought committee has already given exemptions to the ban on filling pools for public use, sports centres, health spas, hotels and campsites, something that the association of property administrators has been very vocal about when seeking clarification on this matter. In addition, the gardening industry is also on tenterhooks awaiting this decision.

Agriculture: sinking fast

In agriculture, organisations such as Asaja have been warning of the irrigation problem. In the Guadalhorce area only 6hm3 are allowed as emergency irrigation of fruit and olive crops. And in Axarquía the Guaro Plan - the building of two more mini reservoirs - is at a standstill, but at least 9 hm3 of recycled water has begun to arrive from Malaga city.

Public-private investment initiatives

This time the drought is coinciding with a major investment effort by regional government (the Junta) through its various drought decrees. It has already mobilised 400 million euros for almost 40 building projects, developed in collaboration with the main public water operators such as Emasa, Acosol and Axaragua, along with other companies such as Hidralia and Aqualia (renovation of wells, improvements to pumping stations, more use of recycled water, desalination plants and improved supply connections).


hm3 were in La Concepción on Wednesday. It had only 15 on 8 March.

On the coast, Acosol expects long-term projects such as working on the Gibralmedina reservoir (on the border between Cadiz and Malaga provinces) and the second desalination plant. Meanwhile, the company continues with the extension work to Marbella's desalination plant, extension of the Río Verde DWTP (Drinking Water Treatment Plant), improvements to the water supply connections and the water flow exchanges between Malaga city and the rest of the province through Rojas pumping station. This, together with a greater use of reclaimed water and some pilot projects to replenish groundwater collection points.

At the municipal level, there are noteworthy initiatives such as the two-phase desalination plant (taking first from deep wells, and then from the sea) pushed for by Estepona.


hm3 are in La Viñuela. It had 13.19 on 8 March.

In Malaga city Emasa is dealing with works to address excessive water pressure and leaks, improving the use of wells and water-capture from other water flows, extending the Atabal desalination plant, working on the Pilones DWTP and extending the recycling capacity at the Guadalhorce WWTP (waste water treatment plant) for agricultural irrigation and golf courses.

With all these water re-use projects under way, this will take the province to 101 hm3 of recycled water. Companies such as Dcoop have set up an irrigation community to pursue sound use of these resources. Similarly, the fruit-farming company Trops has promoted desalination initiatives.

The Spanish government has yet to draw up and put out to tender the work on the project to build Vélez's desalination plant, valued at 100 million euros.


hm3 is the amount of recycled water the province will be able to produce in the future.

As for the Diputación (provincial authority), its five-year plan (2025-2029) obliges all municipalities to invest 30% of their budgets in policies relating to water. In addition, their economic aid plan, worth 17 million euros, recommends the monies go to the same purpose.


million euros put up by the Junta to combat the drought.

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