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Spain approves river diversion for drought-hit Barcelona

by Staff Writers
Madrid (AFP) April 18, 2008
Spain's government Friday announced a 180-million-euro scheme to channel water from the river Ebro to combat the worst drought in decades in the region around the northeastern city of Barcelona.

"If we do nothing and it does not rain, five million residents of the Barcelona region will have no more water to drink in October," Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega told a news conference.

The government gave the green light to the scheme, in which an existing pipeline that channels water from the Ebro to the city of Tarragona will be extended up to Barcelona which has a population of about 1.5 million.

The work will last six months and cost 180 million euros (283 million dollars), De la Vega said.

The national meteorological institute has said Spain has had 40 percent less rain than normal in the meteorological year which began October 1.

Water reserves across the country have fallen to 46.6 percent of capacity, a 20 percentage point drop over the level recorded a decade ago.

But the situation is especially critical around Barcelona, capital of the northeastern region of Catalonia, where reserves are at just 19 percent of capacity. If they drop below 15 percent, the water from the dams cannot be used as it will have too much sediment.

Authorities in Barcelona already plan to receive fresh water supplies by boat from next month from other parts of Spain and neighbouring France.

Spain's conservative opposition Popular Party has criticized the government for backing the Ebro project for Barcelona despite refusing to approve a similar plan for the regions of Valencia and Murcia four years ago.

The PP presidents of Valencia and Murcia on Thursday threatened to take the government to the Constitutional Court over the issue.

De la Vega said the Ebro project was "temporary", until a desalinisation plant becomes operational in Barcelona in 2009.

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