The importance of water in Fuerteventura

Barranco del Río Cabras

The title of this article: “The importance of water in Fuerteventura”, perhaps makes one think of the importance of water in the development of the island. However, these letters go much further. They pretend to be a voice of protest and a way to raise awareness of the scarcity of water on the island. In fact, I would have given it a stronger title, something like “PLEASE CLOSE THE TAP NOW, WE ARE RUNNING WITHOUT WATER!! Yes, just as you read it, in bold, capital letters and with a double exclamation point. 

Until very recently, just a few decades, Fuerteventura did not have a water supply network. The only water that the island had, both for agriculture and livestock as well as for human supply, came from the subsoil, the few springs and rain. There was a time when tankers had to come from other parts of the archipelago to supply the island’s inhabitants with water.

The lack of water has been a historical constant in Fuerteventura. The rain, always longed for but almost always scarce, has determined the future of its inhabitants. This fact motivated the Majorera economy to be based on dryland agriculture and livestock. Also, that in each era various techniques were developed to extract water, creating a landscape dotted with gavias, nateros, maretas, chains, alcogidas and mills. Many of the traditional houses of Fuerteventura preserve their old cisterns, wells, and waterwheels. In addition, in all the houses there were “destiladeras”, a Canarian device that is used to filter the water.

How often does it rain in Fuerteventura? 

lluvia en Tetir
lluvia en Tetir

The rain in Fuerteventura is concentrated in a few days, sometimes torrentially, which causes strong erosion. 

The average annual rainfall in Fuerteventura is about 133 liters per square meter, which falls in about 22 days, clearly insufficient to supply this island, much less to recharge the aquifer. 

The scant rainfall together with high temperatures, and a greater frequency of tropical nights are the main reasons that Fuerteventura does not have sufficient water resources.

Formerly, in the rainy years, the island was transformed into an impressive field of cultivation. Hundreds of ships loaded with wheat and barley left from Fuerteventura to other parts of the archipelago. Those years Fuerteventura became the granary of the Canary Islands. 

However, the dry winters made the island a desolate place, where famine and plagues were frequent. On some occasions, the famines were so long and severe that they forced its inhabitants to leave the island, never to return, leaving Fuerteventura almost uninhabited.

No hay agua pa’tanta gente

We refer to this well-known song to insist with a bit of humor on the fact that, indeed, there is no water for so many people!

Until the end of the 19th century, the existing water in Fuerteventura, despite its scarcity, could supply the 11,000 inhabitants of the island during the rainy seasons. 

The arrival of mass tourism drastically increased the stable population of the island, reaching the current 137,000 inhabitants. To these figures we must add the 2,000,000 tourists who visit us every year. This would mean having a continuous population of just over 300,000 people in Fuerteventura.

If it doesn’t rain, where does the water come from? 

Opening the tap and letting water come out is such a daily gesture that we don’t stop to think about where it comes from, or the ecological costs of having a supply network. 

The water that we, so happily let escape down the drain, comes from desalination plants, a system with a very high environmental cost. The energy consumption to desalinate water is impressive. It accounts for more than 60% of the costs of water production, so the challenge to lower energy and environmental costs lies in the incorporation of renewable energies.

How much does it cost to generate a cubic meter of desalinated water? 

To generate 1 cubic meter of water, about 3 kWh/m3 of electricity is needed. And how is electricity generated in the Canary Islands? Well, almost 80% of the electricity in the Canary Islands is generated by burning oil. 

This means that each cubic meter of desalinated water has a high environmental impact. There are about 40,000 tons of CO2 released into the atmosphere each year. Let’s think about it the next time we think of filling the bathtub to the brim.

Consequences of the irresponsible use of water 

The waste of water brings as a first consequence the increase in temperatures and greenhouse gases at a global level, also the overexploitation of fossil aquifers, the loss of fertile soil, and a long etcetera. In short, we are going to leave a planet in very poor conditions for the development of life.

How can you contribute to avoid it?

I’m sorry to tell you that there are no new recipes, that all actions are based on what scientists have been telling us for decades. And that can be summed up as: If we do not take care of and use water responsibly, either at home or at our vacation destination, soon there will be no destination or vacation. 

Don’t fill the tub. If you want to take a well-deserved bath, make use of the pools and, above all, visit one of our impressive beaches. 

Do not take long showers, as if you were under an eternal waterfall. Many hotel establishments have artificial waterfalls in their pools, take advantage of them. 

The toilet is not a trash can. Do not throw papers, plastics, oils, food inside… Do not leave the tap running until the water comes out at the temperature you are looking for. 

In short, we want you to feel at home: take care of it as such.