MADRID The continuation of Spain's long-running drought further cut the major gas- and grain-importing country's capacity to generate hydropower and irrigate crops in the past week, official data showed on Tuesday.
The three months to February were the driest since the Met office began compiling comparable records in 1947, which has drained hydropower reservoirs and forced up wholesale power prices.
Low reservoir levels may also put farmers off sowing spring maize in some regions, and they have said winter-planted wheat and barley may suffer permanent damage if rain does not fall soon.
The Met Office has forecast rain for the coming weekend, which would help relieve parched crops, but technicians say it needs to be sustained for the rest of April and May.
Rainfall recorded by the Ministry in the week to April 3 was 14.5 percent of the historical (1930-96) average at 2.1 millimeters.
Hydropower reservoirs have enough water to produce 10,337 gigawatt-hours of electricity, the Ministry for Agriculture and the Environment said in a bulletin, which is 71 GWh less than a week ago and 16.9 percent below the average for the last 10 years.
That compares to annual demand for electricity of 254,700 GWh.
Scarcity of hydropower makes Spain more dependent on gas-fired generators and drives up imports by what is typically the world's eighth-biggest natural gas importer. It is also the fourth-largest importer of liquefied natural gas.
Spain imports nearly all of the 36 billion cubic meters of gas it burns every year, although demand has recently been weak due to the economic crisis and competition from coal.
Wholesale power prices influence revenues for power utilities including Iberdrola (IBE.MC), Endesa (ELE.MC)(ENEI.MI), Gas Natural (GAS.MC) and Hidrocantabrico (EDP.LS).
Reservoirs for consumption, which includes agricultural usage, stood at 64.1 percent of capacity, down from 64.3 percent last week but above a 10-year average of 62.6 percent.
Irrigation is vital for growing crops such as maize in Spain and containing grain import needs of at least 10 million tonnes a year, making the drought-prone country a market that attracts attention from Argentina to Kazakhstan.
Overall reservoir levels for hydropower and consumption are now below 50 percent in some regions. Rationing will be enforced if they fall to 20 percent, which last happened in Barcelona in 2008.
(editing by Jane Baird)