Researchers from the University of the Balearic Islands (UIB) have put figures for the first time on water consumption in the tourism sector on the islands and conclude that the economic activity with the greatest weight in the archipelago consumes one out of every four liters of water that comes out of the tap . The study calculates the volume of water used by the tourism sector using data from the period of confinement of the population, when the activity of the sector was completely paralyzed. Water consumption between March 15 and June 21, 2020 was 24.4% lower in the community compared to the same period in 2019. A difference that, according to the study carried out by the Water Resources research group and Global Change of the UIB and published in the scientific journal Journal of Sustainable Tourismcorresponds to the consumption of water associated with tourist activity.
The researchers conclude that the differences are notable depending on the intensity of tourist activity in each municipality. Those that registered a greater presence of visitors in the pre-pandemic years experienced an average reduction of 58.1% in water consumption, while those that usually bear less pressure from visitors saw consumption drop by just 14%. For Cels García, doctor in Geography from the UIB and one of the authors of the study, the pandemic and the significant restrictions on the mobility of international passengers represented “a great opportunity” to calculate for the first time the water consumption caused by tourist pressure. in the islands. The researchers’ estimate points to an annual consumption by the tourism sector of 33 million cubic liters, similar to that consumed by irrigated agriculture on the islands.
The study has been carried out on the figures of nine municipalities that present different levels of tourist activity and the results show that the evolution of water consumption “is not homogeneous” and there are “significant” differences depending on the pressure of visitors from each area. The greatest contrasts can be observed in the municipalities of Mallorca, where the differences are important. For example, eminently tourist towns such as Muro experienced a reduction in water consumption of 73.7%. In Alcúdia it fell by 60.9% while, in another of the most important centers such as Calvià, the drop was 39.8%.
In the case of Palma – the second most active municipality on the islands and with 50,000 tourist places – the reduction was 16.6%, which the authors attribute to a compensation that is given by the increase in consumption by confined residents. . For the researchers, one of the keys is the proportion between the volume of the resident population and the number of tourist overnight stays, since the lower the proportion of residents, the greater the drop in water consumption reflected in the figures. On islands such as Formentera, consumption fell by 51% in the months of April to June 2020, while in Sant Antoni (Ibiza) the reduction was 40% and 27% in Sant Lluís (Menorca). In the larger cities of both islands it did not drop as much, with 16.5% in Ibiza and 9% in Maó. In 2019, between March 15 and June 21, 5,600,078 tourists arrived on the islands according to data from the Balearic Institute of Statistics, while the counter dropped to zero in the same period a year later.
against the myths
For García, the results of the study can be very useful in the future when planning the management of the islands’ water resources and the design of public policies, which will have to be “heterogeneous” and appropriate to each area. concrete. “We don’t have to hide the figures, they have to be said. Also that residents consume a lot of water, nothing happens. If they are not explained, then many myths circulate on the street” she maintains. For the authors of the study, one of the messages that can be extracted from the data is that water management in times of drought has to be planned in advance, taking advantage of the reuse of treated water “which should be given a greater use”. “We will have to see how far we put the limit, we have a significant resident population and there is pressure that is absolutely exceptional. Those who will suffer will be the water resources”, he concludes.
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