April 4, 2006

Spain’s water reserves keep climbing

MADRID (Reuters) - Steady rain has swollen Spain's water
reserves further in the past two weeks, Environment Ministry
data showed on Tuesday, easing fears of a repeat of last year's
severe drought.

Reservoirs are now at 58 percent of their capacity, up from
53.8 percent two weeks ago but still some 14 percent below
their average level for the past 10 years.

Stocks in the driest area -- the Segura basin in the
southeast -- are only 17 percent full and farmers in that and
other regions are likely to continue to face restrictions on
water for irrigation, farmers' union ASAJA said.

The 2004/05 hydrological year recorded the lowest rainfall
in at least 50 years and a dry start to this year had prompted
fears of a second year of drought.

"Conditions are good for non-irrigated crops," said Jose
Carlos Caballeros, ASAJA's director of technical services.

"Reservoir levels look all right now, but the problem is
distribution... the head of the Tagus river is still poor."

The upper part of the Tagus, which flows west across Spain
to Lisbon, includes three large reservoirs in Guadalajara, east
of Madrid, which are supposed to transfer water to the parched
southeastern region of Murcia where much of Spain's fruit is

Low water levels would put such transfers in jeopardy and
threaten the survival of fruit trees.

The Environment Ministry is in talks with farming unions
about a new law that would regulate underground water and also
allow growers with efficient drop-by-drop irrigation to water
their olive trees and vines even in times of drought to keep
plants alive.