Valencia’s flood escape?

Bodil writes*

Valencia is known for its recurrent floods, with the first documented one occurring in October 1321. Since then, the city has experienced nearly 80 devastating floods over the years, caused by excess rainfall overwhelming the soil’s capacity to absorb the water fast enough. The river Turia, which runs through the city, brings death and destruction. The most impactful flood occurred in October 1957, when hundreds of people died, and three quarters of buildings were destroyed by waters rising five meters over their normal level. Something needed to be done to prevent such disasters from happening again (Valencia International).

Spain’s dictator Franco promised funding to reconstruct the city. Plan Sur proposed to divert the river around the city, and 16 years after the disaster, the Turia River was running 3 km south of Valencia for 12 km over a 175m-wide river bed (Caroline Angus).  The old river bed, now one of the biggest city parks in Europe (the Turia Gardens), is full of life and activities.

Map of the re-routing of the Turia

To regulate their waters, Valencia created reservoirs in case of drought and water escape routes in case of floods. Although the project might seem extreme and expensive, it is a necessary precaution to save lives and prevent the need for constant rebuilding. However, there are still very big quantities of water falling into this region, leading to a high risk of flooding. The 2022 record saw 260 mm of rain falling in 24 hours, with 2023’s record being about 150 mm in 24 hours. Considering that it rains on average 45 days a year and the annual rainfall is a bit less than 500 mm, this is a huge amount of water in just a few days.

In comparison, London receives approximately 600 mm of rainfall annually, yet it is known for experiencing a lot of rain as it rains approximately 112 days a year.  We would expect a bigger difference in mm, this shows just how immense the quantity of water that falls on the Valencia region in a day is. Even though the infrastructure has improved with the creation of immense storm drains, there are still many incidents of people getting trapped in their vehicles and houses getting flooded every year. In September 2023, there were already 30 severe incidents of flooding reported. Valencia’s greatest challenge is fighting drought for most of the year and then dealing with immense bodies of water that fall all at once.

Bottom Line: Valencia, a city going to extreme measures to keep the rare and great quantities of water out of the city.

* Please help my Water Scarcity students by commenting on unclear analysis, alternative perspectives, better data sources, or maybe just saying something nice 🙂

Author: David Zetland

I'm a political-economist from California who now lives in Amsterdam.

3 thoughts on “Valencia’s flood escape?”

  1. Hi Bodil!
    It is fascinating to see how these extremes -drought and flooding- can affect dramatically a city!
    I’ve been to La Costa Blanca several times to visit family near Alicante, and I’ve heard about the big water problems faced by this region. The water companies are useless and the infrastructure to prevent cities from flooding is also not the best. However to combat droughts there is this resourceful ancient ‘technique’ from the Arabs called ‘Aljibes’, maybe you’ve heard of it…
    From my understanding it is a cistern system to store water (usually drinkable). Do you know if in cities like Valencia this is still a thing, or is it only in the countryside?

    1. Hi Antonio,
      Thank you for your comment. Yes, the system you described has been providing freshwater to citizens for centuries, dating back to ancient Roman times. However, due to the fast-growing population, the capacity of the cisterns became too small to continue providing for everyone. As a result, the network was abandoned in 1955 and replaced by a modern drinking water distribution system. Although some villages in the countryside still use this system, they are not completely dependent on it and also use the modern system. However, with the increasing drought in the region, there is a possibility of reimplementing a similar system to save drinking water and use it for irrigation purposes.

  2. Hi Bodil!
    I found it so interesting to see the comparison of overall rainfall in London and in Valencia; I feel that this contextualises the massive extent of the heavy rainfalls in Valencia in a way that I would not have been able to conceptualise before. I wonder why there is such intense rainfall in the city, is there any explanation as to why ? Do other parts of Spain suffer in similar ways, or is it primarily localised in Valencia?

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