Huelva’s reservoirs: The water paradox

Andalucian reservoirs' anomaly

View of the Zumajo reservoir, Huelva. Credit: Jose A/Creative Commons Attribution 2.0

Why does Huelva stand out in a region grappling with water shortage?

The province of Huelva in Andalucia illustrates an intriguing anomaly with its reservoirs, currently brimming at 85 per cent capacity as of the first week of April 2024, in stark contrast with the dire water shortages experienced across other parts of southern Spain.

A regional comparison

While recent Easter rains have slightly improved conditions, Andalusia’s water scarcity remains a pressing issue. Yet, Huelva’s reservoirs, primarily fed by the Tinto, Odiel, and Piedras rivers, considerably outperform their counterparts.

For instance, the Guadiana reservoirs are at 48 per cent, Guadalquivir at 42 per cent, Guadalete-Barbate at 27 per cent, and Mediterranea Andaluza at a mere 26 per cent. Such disparities underscore Huelva’s unique standing amidst a broader context of drought in Spain.

Factors behind Huelva’s water wealth

Several factors contribute to Huelva’s relatively lush water status. Firstly, western Andalucia, including Huelva, generally receives more rainfall than the east, a trend corroborated by the Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI) for March 2024.

This natural advantage is significant, as areas like Malaga and Almeria continue to struggle with below-average rainfall.

Additionally, the reservoirs within the Tinto, Odiel, and Piedras basin have a smaller capacity compared to others in the region, meaning they fill up more quickly following rainfall, despite their overall lower volume of water reserves.

The challenge of water quality

However, the story of Huelva’s water resources is not solely one of abundance. The legacy of extensive mining in the area has left many water bodies contaminated with acidic water, rich in sulfides and iron, rendering them unsuitable for domestic use.

This pollution affects even the main rivers of the basin, though it does not impact the drinking water supply, which is sourced from the Guadiana basin.

Consequently, while Huelva’s reservoirs may be full, the usability of this water, particularly for human consumption, remains limited.

The future

The ongoing drought in Andalucia and the rest of Spain poses a complex challenge that Huelva is not immune to.

Despite the current water surplus, the future is fraught with uncertainty, necessitating careful management and possibly the development of new infrastructure to ensure sustainability.

Yet, the emphasis remains on reducing water consumption and enhancing water reuse and desalination processes to address the broader issues of water scarcity and sustainability in the face of climate change.

Huelva’s reservoirs offer a rare glimmer of hope in a region otherwise struggling with drought. However, the issues of water quality and the overarching need for sustainable water management practices remind us that abundance is only part of the solution.

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Written by

John Ensor

Originally from Doncaster, Yorkshire, John now lives in Galicia, Northern Spain with his wife Nina. He is passionate about news, music, cycling and animals.