After two consecutive years of intense drought in Spain, expectations regarding the grape harvest have been reduced significantly. In the current year, rainfall levels have been much lower than those we were used to during the past decade, and there are no expectations of improvement for the following months. Due to the lack of rainfall, we have a considerable deficit in the country’s water reserve, which is at 38.79% of its capacity, according to data offered by the Ministry for Ecological Transition and Demographic Challenge.
If we compare the rainfall of 2022 and 2023 with the average between the years 2011 and 2021, we can clearly see the drought and its magnitude. In 2022, the amount of rainfall decreased by 8.42% compared to the previous average, and in 2023 the trend is the same, so we can expect a similar result.
Although it is true that the climate is not constant and drought is a recurring phenomenon in nature, its duration is usually less than a year and is solved by water reserves. However, we have already experienced a shortage of rain for almost two years, and as a result, the reservoirs have reduced their storage by more than half. Reservoirs represent 80% of the water available to consume and should never be below 50% of their capacity. If the drought does not stop soon, we will not be able to meet the demand for water.
Viticulture is one of the many sectors that have been directly affected by the lack of water. It is known that water is one of the factors with the most influence on the growth and development of the grape. Therefore, the vineyard must have enough water and minerals to nourish the vine. The land can receive water naturally from rain or through irrigation systems. Currently, the land’s water levels are far below those needed to provide proper growth for the grapes. The irrigation system could solve part of this lack of water, however, the wells do not have enough water due to the low levels of groundwater. Therefore, only a small part of the rainfall deficit is being solved by those systems.
Despite the drought, a great part of the grape harvest was saved last year as the land was still wet and fertile. However, this year the land is much drier and contains fewer minerals. Viticulturists from Catalonia, a region with large wine zones such as “El Penedès”, expect a harvest of less than 25% of the usual in years with good climate conditions. In other areas, such as the Basque Country, a higher percentage is expected because it has rained a little more. Consequently, some small winegrowers who are not making a profit from their land are thinking of leaving it. In addition, there are more consequences, as part of the vine will need to be replanted next year because it is excessively dry to produce grapes again.
Next year, soil moisture and fertility levels will be excessively low, and supplements will need to be applied to help the vine grow and make it more resilient. Recently, there have appeared some organic fertilizer products that nourish the vine to grow stronger and help them avoid pests. These products are set to become popular because the lack of water has reduced the proliferation of pests in vineyards and other agricultural sectors, reducing the need to use pesticides. Chemicals are the most effective way to control pests, however, they have a harmful effect on the health of the vine, which we cannot currently afford. Because of this, biological fertilizer products with the ability to control pests have established themselves as the best choice for the next years. In Amapex we contribute ecologically to strengthening the vineyard and other crops with those biological fertilizer products. By strengthening the plant, we improve its health and capacity to fight against possible pests.
It is important to understand that climate conditions are changing due to climate change, and we must adapt to them. We cannot depend completely on the weather, we must look for new alternative sources of water in order to be less dependent. One of the most viable alternatives, which is being promoted in Europe through different funded projects, is the regeneration of wastewater for subsequent reuse. At AMAPEX, we have participated in some European projects, such as RIBATI and MELODIZER.
On the one hand, we have been part of RIBATI, where we have developed a biotechnological system that, by isolating specific bacterial strains, is able to remove pollutants from wastewater and offer an economically viable solution for small and medium-sized companies. On the other hand, we are also part of the MELODIZER project, collaborating with 18 other companies and public entities. Our objective is to study the application of membrane distillation with the aim of transforming wastewater into water suitable for consumption and taking advantage of resources present in discarded water.
Currently, only 2.4% of wastewater in Europe is reused, and the European Commission estimates it could reach 15% considering the resources available. There is no doubt that the regeneration of wastewater would be an effective solution to the lack of water, however, it cannot be carried out without the cooperation of states, companies that generate wastewater, and ourselves. We have resources, the only thing we lack is attitude.