MADRID, April 15 (Reuters) - Spanish hydropower reserves rose last week as unusually heavy rain helped offset the effects of a long drought but water levels were still well down from a year ago, official data showed on Tuesday.
The latest weekly bulletin from the Environment Ministry estimated that reservoirs set aside for hydroelectric power stations were 62.6 percent full on Sunday, up from 59.7 percent a week earlier.That was down from 79.7 percent a year ago.
Reservoirs held enough water to generate 9,169 gigawatt-hours of electricity, up 705 GWh on the week but only 70.1 percent of what was available this time last year.
Demand for electricity on a typical working day in Spain is about 750 GWh.
Hydroelectric generation has declined after a winter-long drought which has also led authorities in northeast region Catalonia to plan to import drinking water by boat from France next month.
According to data from power industry body UNESA, generation from hydroelectric plants in Spain in the first quarter dropped by 60.4 percent from a year earlier.
The UNESA data show that hydropower met just 5 percent of demand for electricity, down from a share of 12 percent in a good year.
Spain’s biggest utility, Iberdrola (IBE.MC), derived 9.7 percent of all the power it produced in Spain in the first quarter from hydroelectric stations, down 20.8 percent for 2007 as a whole.
Wind power has done much to fill the gap recently and has set new generation records by providing as much as 24 percent of total demand in a given day.
Rainfall in the week to April 13, however, was unusually heavy at 41 millimetres for the country as a whole, or 312.8 percent the historical average.
That was enough to ease fears that the forthcoming harvest of winter-planted barley and wheat would fail, but farmers have warned that restrictions on water for irrigation could lead mean less maize will be planted this spring.
Water levels in reservoirs for consumption, including agriculture, rose to 44.2 percent of capacity, up from 41.9 percent last week but below 54.0 percent a year ago.
Spain needs rain and irrigation to grow crops like wheat, barley and maize in order to reduce its heavy dependence on imported grain. Even a bumper grain harvest like last year’s 23 million tonnes still leaves the country about five million short of demand.
In addition to maize, Spain’s main irrigated crops are cotton and alfalfa, which is used to make animal feed. (Reporting by Martin Roberts; Editing by xxx xxx)