IT is painfully obvious that, in spite of some recent rainfall Spain is experiencing a prolonged drought.

Average rainfall this winter is 33% of normal while water flows in some of Spain’s major rivers (e.g., Tagus, Guadalquivir, Douro) average 35-40% below normal. Drive by any of the Andalucian or Valencian reservoirs and you will see the lowest levels in decades. But this is only part of the story. Want more in depth information? Want to know what we as global citizens can do? You might be surprised to learn that, in spite of the drought, there is actually some positive news regarding Spain and water.  Consider …

Since 1993 the United Nations and people across the globe have observed March 22 as World Water Day. The purpose of the day is to inspire action to preserve and protect this important natural resource by raising public awareness for water issues. This year’s theme, Groundwater – Making the Invisible Visible hopes to draw attention to the hidden underground water resource which has always been critically important but not fully recognised.

According to United Nations data, 97% (you read that correctly!) of all liquid fresh water is found under the earth’s crust inside aquifers – or permeable geological formations made up of rocks and sand capable of holding water in storage.

The very real drought conditions mentioned earlier in Spain’s rivers and reservoirs represents surface water and is only part of Spain’s water story. The Iberian Peninsula is especially blessed in that fully one third of the land mass has an unusually high number of permeable aquifers. Furthermore, these geological formations are unique with igneous and metamorphic rocks that are more apt to ‘recharge’ ample groundwater.

For Spain, a relatively arid country susceptible to frequent droughts, an ample supply of groundwater constitutes a strategic resource that allows for irrigation during dry periods.

This unique set of circumstances has not gone unnoticed by regulatory officials. The Spanish Water Act of 1985 declared all groundwater as part of the ‘public domain’. This was one of the first acts of its kind in Europe. This means that groundwater under private property can be monitored, regulated and is subject to legal environmental scrutiny.

The act provides a legal framework for the protection and sustainable use of all water bodies on and under Spanish soil.

This is positive news but in no way should diminish the severity of Spain’s drought. Diffused pollution, industrial pollution, unmonitored drilling of wells and sanitation issues are just some of the threats to Spain’s underground water.

We must remain vigilant because as the saying goes ‘water is life itself’. As climate change gets worse, groundwater becomes even more critical. Groundwater may be out of sight but it must not be out of mind.

Our vigilance might start by tuning in to some of the events scheduled for this coming Tuesday, March 22. Those events will include live webinars, videos, forums, active discussion groups and audience participation is encouraged. For more information go to: www.worldwaterday.org/learn.

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