Fieldwork in the Andalucía-Los Pedroches Living Lab uncovers impacts of drought

On the week of April 24-28, 2023, members of the UCM I-CISK team Lucia De Stefano and Nikoletta Ropero visited the Andalucía-Los Pedroches Living Lab (ALPLL) to collect data on groundwater levels and interview farmers and residents in the region. This information will help improve understanding of the local hydrology and its response to the evolution of climate and uses, one of the climate services co-identified for the LL.

The region is currently experiencing one of the most severe drought episodes in recent history. On April 9 2023, Sierra Boyera, the reservoir that supplies drinking water to the municipalities in the region, dried out. Anticipating this outcome, the Spanish government has constructed an  emergency connection from La Colada reservoir in the northern Pedroches region to Sierra Boyera. However, due to poor water quality of La Colada’s water reserves, human consumption of tap water for drinking purposes has been banned.  Wells that have been used for decades for watering livestock, are also running dry. Farmers are seeking alternative drinking sources for their cattle and considering other adaptation measures, such as reducing the size of the herd.

Lack of rainfall has been accompanied by record-breaking temperatures in the second half of April, with thermometers reaching 38ºC. Pastures and other feed grain are dry, and farmers are forced to buy feed with the resulting costs. The production of acorns from holm oaks has also decreased affecting the region´s iberian pig herd.

April is usually a rainy month and was the last hope for rainfall before the summer, but this year no rain has come. The severe nationwide drought of 1992-1995 significantly affected the Pedroches region, but farmers and residents feel that the situation is more severe now. After almost 6-7 years of low rainfall, this is the first year they have lived without spring rains.

The lack of rain and high temperatures leave a typical August landscape. The “sementera” – the  local name for cultivated pastures, which normally reaches knee height in April, this year barely reaches the ankle. “There is nothing to harvest,” they say, and that means there will be limited food for the thousands of sheep, cows and pigs in the region. The lack of rainfall, coupled with the lack of grass, implies an increase in livestock maintenance costs that few can afford.

Although everyone was looking at the sky waiting for rain, we looked underground. Thanks to the generosity of the farmers and ranchers that shared with us their time and knowledge, and gave us access to their wells, we were able to sample 86 wells throughout the region. We learned that water table levels have decreased significantly, some wells have dried up for the first time and streams do not flow, even in winter. Farmers have to buy tanker trucks to quench the thirst of their livestock and have begun to invest in water tanks to store the little water they can collect from different sources.

We are very grateful for the time and dedication that the people of the territory have given us. This has been the first of a series of seasonal field campaigns that the UCM team will undertake. The quantitative and qualitative data collected  will allow us to better understand and model the hydrogeological functioning of the aquifer. It’s going to be a tough summer in Los Pedroches. We hope that the next time we visit the area  in the autumn, the season will come loaded with storms.