“Thousands have lived without love, not one without water.” -WH Auden
It’s the elixir of life and always seems so like a limitless resource, especially when living on an island. But the fact is, water shortages and drought conditions on Mallorca are frequent occurrences, not only at the height of summer, but throughout the year, and ones that we all must face as part of our daily lives.
To use water carefully has a long tradition in rural Mallorca. Many countryside properties are not connected to the public mains, and by no means all are lucky enough to have their own wells. The majority rely on so-called aljibes or water cisterns that have to be filled by truck when they run dry – a fact that makes people automatically be mindful of their consumption. Town dwellers are often not as aware of how much they use, and more and more demands are being placed on the island’s water supply, both through population growth, tourism and modern forms of agriculture. The threat of a South Africa-style water shortage thus seems not entirely out of the question.
What is being done to help alleviate the problem at a government level? And what can we do to help take the strain off the system and become more responsible citizens? Affordable Mallorca has a few ideas, some straight from the experts’ mouths, and we will share all here!
The Problems #
Mallorca has limited freshwater reserves. This is no big surprise. In the past, it wasn’t a hugely big deal, as the population was low and agriculture less intensive. But in more recent years, an expanding tourism sector, explosive urban growth and a renewed agricultural boom are demanding more and more of the pie.
Unfortunately demand from the private sector is increasing as well. People are using water at a rate unprecedented in earlier generations for things not necessary to sustain human life. Watering gardens and golf courses in summer to keep them green and compensating evaporation losses in swimming pools suck up vast amounts of water, for example.
The island gets water from three sources. Two reservoirs exist in the Tramuntana, wells on private land, and desalination plants in Andratx and Alcúdia. Reservoirs depend on natural rainfall to refill. Wells continue to be dug deeper and deeper, but eventually go too far allowing sea water to seep into the depleted groundwater supply, contaminating it. And finally, desalination is used to make up for shortages, but the environmental impact of the process makes it less than desirable long-term.
The Med is already feeling the effects of climate change with unpredictable droughts followed by terrifying flooding deluges. This pattern is almost sure to continue as our new norm. The summer of 2019 saw water reserves fall to 51%, 4% lower than the previous summer, and the situations of the other Balearic Islands are even worse.
Up until now, the government on the island has focused on the old paradigm of water supply enhancement rather than the more sustainable water demand management approach, leaving us vulnerable when rains don’t come, or when they come so fast and furiously, they cannot be properly “caught” and stored, though this attitude is now changing. On this note, it is important to keep in mind that Mallorca has no large rivers or lakes for catchment like on the continent and the UK, so water collection is a lot trickier than in other places even in the best of conditions.
The Solutions #
The good news is that not all is lost! The government has been extraordinarily proactive in many other ways of late, making awareness a top priority. It has started some interesting programs to this end.
Launched in May 2019, an innovative campaign at Palma Airport called Water is a Scarce Commodity. Think About It! put water savings front and centre. On the baggage carousels were placed a number of transparent suitcases comparing average summer rainfall in the home country of the new arrivals to that of Mallorca, followed by a series of suitcases with written reminders to conserve. It was a strong, albeit unsubtle, visual for visitors and a reminder to think.
Additionally, the government has put out a website in English, Spanish, German and Catalan showing people how little changes add up to a lot. The tips are simple and easy to apply to daily life, thus making them easy to turn into lifelong habits. Did you know, for example, that turning the tap off whilst brushing teeth saves up to 12 litres per minute?
Eight Tips to Save Water in House and Garden #
- Check your property regularly for leaks on your internal plumbing and fix dripping taps immediately. This alone saves 30 litres per day.
- If you have a garden, whenever possible use a watering can instead of a sprinkler or hosepipe which can easily use between 500 and 1,000 litres of water an hour.
- Put a bowl in the sink when washing your vegetables or fruit and use the water collected to water your plants.
- For a cool drink, don't run the tap until the water is cold, but fill a jug and put it in the fridge.
- Turn off the tap not only while brushing your teeth, but also while soaping your hands! Saving up to 12 litres per minute is well worth this little act of mindfulness.
- Take a shower instead of a bath. A five-minute shower uses about 40 litres of water – half of what you need for a standard bath.
- Equipping your toilet cistern with a water-saving device could save between one and three litres each time you flush.
- Before using your washing machine or dishwasher, wait until you have a full load. When buying a new one, watch out for a modern model with low water consumption. There are washing machines that use less than seven litres of water per kg of clothes, and dishwashers that use as little as ten to fifteen litres of water per cycle – much less than you'd use when doing the dishes by hand. (Any website asking me to NOT to wash dishes is one I will happily take notice of.)
#mallorcawatersupply #mallorcafreshwater #mallorcawatercampaign
By Stephanie Horsman
20 September, 2019