31st Mar 2024 @ 5:00 am

Lanzarote faces “a difficult summer” if the current drought continues, according to the Canarian President.

First published April 1st in the Gazette Life magazine.

Springtime on Lanzarote is often full of glorious colour, a season when short showers alternate with sunshine, painting brilliant rainbows in the blue skies. It’s also a time when the rural areas of the island can explode into life, as greenery appears and millions of small wildflowers bloom, brought to life by the winter rains.

But this year, there’s been little of that. Rainbows are few and far between and the ground remains parched and dry as Lanzarote heads into a second year of drought.

By the end of February this year, only 1.7 mms of rain had fallen on the island. That comes on the heels of 2023, which brought a total of 38.7 mms of rainfall on Lanzarote, more than half of it in the first two months of the year. This makes last year the driest one ever recorded on the island.

The effects have already been seen on Lanzarote. Last summer saw continuous water cuts in rural areas of the island, and the Cabildo was forced to bring another desalination machine from La Palma to handle the demand.

The water shortages were caused by several factors. A breakdown at the desalination plant meant reserves were quickly used up and leaks in the mains system also saw villages cut off while repairs were carried out. There was also immense demand during an extremely hot summer when the island had more tourists than at any time in its history

The island of La Graciosa was probably the worst-affected area. Served by a single pipe running along the bed of El Río, leaks in the supply saw islanders suffer constant water cuts.

The rickety condition of Lanzarote’s aging water system is a continuing problem. Last year around 55% of all water produced on the island was lost to leaks and illegal hook-ups.

Lanzarote is not alone in this, of course. Fuerteventura declared that it was suffering a water emergency over a year ago, a step that allowed for urgent repairs to the water supply. Tenerife has also declared a water emergency and two councils there have banned activities such as car washing and filling swimming pools.

If the current drought continues, the Canaries face “a difficult summer”, according to Canarian President Fernando Clavijo. He claimed that “problems such as the ones suffered on La Graciosa would be repeated”, and the general public and farmers will face difficulties.

Clavijo was speaking at a recent meeting of the Water Board, formed by the Canarian regional government and the Cabildos (island governments), as the authorities discussed how to allocate a budget surplus of €280 million and other funds from the Spanish state.

Lanzarote Challenges

Lanzarote will avoid some of the problems faced by other islands. It does not rely on rainfall for its water supply, for example, and although the desalination plant uses immense amounts of power, mostly generated by fossil fuels, its operation is not affected by drought.

There is also no risk of the fierce forest fires which swept the western islands last year and have prompted authorities to consider closing off some forested areas of Tenerife and Gran Canaria completely in the summer months.

Lanzarote’s main problems are likely to remain water shortages caused by the deteriorating mains system, and these will be felt primarily by those in rural areas and farmers.

The island’s main source of income is tourism, which is why supplies to the resorts were given priority last summer. Arrecife, where more than one in three residents live, was also spared most of the cuts.

But agriculture is likely to suffer. Many of Lanzarote’s crops, such as grapevines, rely on a thorough soaking of the earth in the winter months. Without rainfall, farmers have to rely on mains supplies of water, and water for irrigation purposes is one of the first things to be cut when supplies are threatened. Other threats include the menace to the island’s wildlife caused by a prolonged drought.

Finally, there is the possibility of a price increase for water consumers. Successive governments have kept water rates low, fearing the reaction of voters to a price hike, but the island’s water supplier, Canal Gestión, has been demanding a price increase to help cover maintenance costs for many years.

At some point, water prices will have to be raised, but coming at a time when the cost of living is the main concern of many households, it will not be popular.

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