When Water Vanishes
April 2022. We are leaving the eastern part of the Pyrenees behind us, driving South. After a day of climbing we are looking forward to taking a cold bath. We have chosen the lake ‘Llosa del Cavall’, one of the many reservoirs in Catalonia, as well as a parking space with the possibility to swim.
Of course, we have heard of forest fires in Spain. And droughts. And water shortage. Especially during the last hot summers. But the absence of water is simply not engrained in our minds. Yet. That’s why we didn’t even think about the possibility of an empty lake. Spain is currently in one of its worst droughts, endangering harvest and ecosystems alike. Most water is used for agriculture; but strangely, farmers are more concerned about possible water regulation laws than to irreversibly lose their most valuable resource as the land slowly degrades to a desert. This attitude might be coupled with their age, as it is expected that most farmers will go into retirement within the coming years, and there are no young people to replace them.
We are arrive at the reservoir – at least that’s what our navigation system says. Because the reality in front of our windscreen looks differently: No water in sight, just bare rocks. We check again if we entered everything correctly. We did, this must be the lake. But this lake is missing its very defining feature: Water.
We use water carelessly during daily life, as though it is an unlimited resource; because for most of our lives it indeed has been rather unlimited. During our ongoing trip this has changed. Water is not only scarce in Spain, but also in our camper van. While a single flushing of our toilet back home would have used 10 liters of water, we now live on around 8-10 liters a day, including everything. Of course this changes on an instant when visiting a campsite and taking a shower, but it puts things into perspective. When I read ‘The End of the Ocean’ by Maja Lunde a few years back, I didn’t particularly like it. But this seemingly dystopian story probably hit the nail on the head in describing one potential future scenario on the shortage of water in Europe. When consulting the latest IPCC report, the question is not if a future without water scarcity will come, but if we can adapt in time to cope with it adequately. But taking into account societies will to adapt to other problems of climate change, the answer seems regrettably evident.
After closer investigation we see some water after all. It’s deep below, inaccessible, and not suitable to bath in; but it’s there. At least for now, until everything will be dry in a few summers from now.