Spain’s Civil Guard said Tuesday it had arrested 26 people in raids on illegal wells in the Andalusia region, as part of a widening crackdown on unauthorized water use amid a prolonged drought.
The Civil Guard’s environmental crimes division said it had identified 250 infractions by fruit farmers including illegal wells and boreholes in the Axarquia area, east of the coastal city of Malaga. It estimated the damage to public water infrastructure at $10.95 million.
Spain’s central government is urging increasingly strict rules on water use in Andalusia, the world’s most important region for olive oil production and a key source of fruits and vegetables for the European export market.
Record-breaking April temperatures in Andalusia have coupled with a chronic lack of rainfall. Water reservoirs in the Guadalquivir river basin, which runs through the territory, are only about a quarter full, at 27.95%, even before summer has begun. Farmers in the region have had their water allowance for irrigation cut by up to 90% in some cases.
The situation in the vast agricultural heartland and in northeastern Catalonia means that Spain’s total water reserves nationally have dipped to 48.9%.
April was also Spain’s driest ever. Currently, 27% of Spanish territory is in either the drought “emergency” or “alert” category. Farmers across the Western Mediterranean have warned that crop failures are likely.
Water resources in Spain have meanwhile become increasingly politicized ahead of May 28 local elections. The left-wing central government has criticized Andalusia’s right-wing regional administration for attempting to declare an amnesty for illegal wells around the region’s Doñana wetlands, in contravention of European Union law.
Meanwhile, the far-right in Spain has used social media to perpetrate disinformation about a government official falsely ordering reservoirs to be emptied.