Spanish region may ship water to relieve drought

MADRID Fri Apr 4, 2008 6:07pm BST

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MADRID (Reuters) - Spain's northeast Catalonia region will need to import water by ship and train from May to ensure domestic supplies if the current drought persists, the regional government said in a report.

The report, sent to Reuters on Friday, said rainfall in all but one of Catalonia's 15 river basins was below emergency levels for the year so far.

"Forecasts show that if scant additions to reservoirs continue as they have in the past 11 months, resources need to be brought in by ship during May to prevent cuts in domestic supply," the report said.

Plans are for seven boats to come in May to regional capital Barcelona, at first from nearby port Tarragona, then from French port Marseille. A further three ships may arrive in August from a desalination plant in southern Spanish port Carboneras.

The Generalitat, or regional government, estimated that upgrading port facilities to handle water would cost 35.2 million euros ($55.30 million), and the cost of chartering 10 ships 44 million euros.

Contacts have also been made with state rail company Renfe to charter trains to carry water, but the Generalitat provided no timetables or financial details in its plans.

Catalonia is home to 7.2 million people, or 16 percent of Spain's population, and its capital Barcelona is the country's second city.

Spain needs water to irrigate crops to reduce its dependence on imported grain, and to drive hydroelectric power stations.

Currently, however, hydroelectric reservoirs are just 57.8 percent full and reservoirs for consumption, including agriculture, are 41.4 percent full.

Hydroelectric power is an important part of the Spanish government's policy to phase out nuclear power stations and focus on renewable energy.

However, due to the drought, hydroelectric power's contribution to Spain's energy demand has fallen to about five percent so far this year from 12 percent in a wet year. Wind power has helped make up the shortfall.

Farmers are concerned that the driest winter in memory coupled with unusually warm weather may harm the forthcoming harvest of wheat and barley.

(Reporting by Martin Roberts; Editing by Elizabeth Piper)

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