Spain’s agricultural sector, particularly the fruit and vegetable industry, is facing a severe water shortage due to droughts and intensive crop needs. The situation is so dire that the government took action in mid-February and limited water transfers from the Tagus river to agricultural lands in the Spanish Levante, including the provinces of Murcia, Alicante, and Almería. The government’s move has exacerbated tensions, particularly in a region where half of the fruits and vegetables exported by Spain are produced.
The Tagus river runs along a thousand kilometers through the center of Spain and flows into the Atlantic Ocean in Portugal. It has become a source of tension, much like Nile in Egypt and the Tigris in Iraq. The Spanish Levante region became the first fruit and vegetable region in Europe, producing an annual turnover of 3,000 million euros and creating more than 100,000 direct and indirect jobs. This was possible thanks to the “Tajo-Segura Transfer,” which diverts part of the Tagus waters to the Segura River.
However, this infrastructure which was started during the Franco dictatorship in the 1960s and commissioned in 1979 is no longer adapted to the increasing demand and the adverse effects of global warming. The river’s flow has dropped 12%, and the situation is expected to change if urgent measures are not taken. A reduction in extractions of almost 30% is expected, raising the water level of the Tagus and protecting its fauna.
The Pedro Sánchez government promised greater investments to develop alternative sources of water to compensate for the expected drop in transfers. Still, farmers are in doubt as desalinated water lacks nutrients and has significant environmental consequences. The cost of desalinated water is also three to four times more than water from the Tagus and is worth the same as a liter of gasoline. Ecologists suggest a complete revision of the current system to tackle Spain’s water shortage problem.