Spain Is Running Out Of Fresh Water

Spain Is Running Out Of Fresh Water

By José Santamarta

Spain has just experienced the worst drought of the last century. Climate change or natural event? The last hydrometeorological year, which runs from September 2004 to August 2005, will go down in history as the driest in Spain since the calculation of rainfall volumes began in 1947.

"Water warms more than fire and makes you drunk more than wine."
Manuel Lorenzo Pardo. Alicante, 1933

Spain has just experienced the worst drought of the last century. Climate change or natural event? It would probably be too early to say, but the truth is that the last hydrometeorological year, which spans from September 1, 2004 to August 31, 2005, will go down in history for having been the driest in Spain since the beginning of the calculation of rainfall volumes in 1947.

The average rainfall in Spain has been only 411 mm, 40% less than the normal average value, affecting all regions, except the Canary Islands. The greatest rainfall deficit was recorded in Extremadura, Andalusia, Castilla-la Mancha, Madrid, Catalonia and the south of Castilla y León, where it did not even reach 50% of normal values, and in many areas it barely reached 35 % of mean values. In the rest of Spain, the deficit was significant, except in the Cantabrian slope, south of Galicia, La Rioja, Navarra, east of Aragon, center and north of Valencia, south of Murcia and east of Almería, although without reaching normal values . But as important as the global deficit, was the distribution throughout the year, since in the last year all the months were dry or very dry, except October 2004. And as the months passed, the accumulated reserves in the reservoirs They have been decreasing to 40%: in September they stored only 22,037 Hm3, compared to 31,552 Hm3 a year ago. The autumn rains are likely to put an end to this extreme situation, but the drought will return, because it is a cyclical phenomenon, which will be exacerbated by climate change.

Another factor to highlight is that the situation could worsen even more, since historically droughts in Spain last from 4 to 5 years, and hence the importance of applying savings and efficiency policies in all uses, from irrigation, which represent close to 80% of consumption, to urban uses.

Whose is the water?

Water, as Minister Cristina Narbona recalls, is a public good and belongs to everyone, and that is why it is priceless, it is a basic human right. When we talk about the price of water, we refer to the significant costs involved in capturing, storing, distributing and purifying water once it is used, without polluting and degrading rivers, the coastline or aquifers. The European Union Framework Directive will oblige us to pass all costs on to end users.

Another very different thing is who manages the water and the debate raised with the new drafts of the Statutes of Autonomy, such as that of the Valencian Community and Catalonia, among others. Our legal system is crystal clear in this regard: in the rivers that flow through various autonomies there is the Basin Unit, and it is the Government who manages the basins that flow through various regions, through the Hydrographic Confederations.

No territory can “shield” a river that runs through several Autonomous Communities, and even less can it claim or demand the transfer from another basin, as two of the regions governed by the PP, Murcia and the Valencian Community, claim. Competition over transfers corresponds to the government, which is guided by criteria of solidarity and responsibility. That is why the transfer of the Ebro was suspended, and sooner or later the transfer of the Tagus will have to be reconsidered, as demanded by all the regional parties and forces of Castilla-La Mancha, once the deficiencies in the receiving areas with desalination plants are solved, reuse wastewater management and efficiency improvement, a process that will take a few years.
Water belongs to everyone, but it has many uses, from the highest priority, such as water supply or urban supply, which barely represents 15%, industrial supply (7%) and irrigation of agriculture (about 78%). ). The Ministry of the Environment tries to put order and stop the lack of control, such as that caused by the numerous illegal wells (there is talk of half a million, but it is difficult to know the exact figure), which overexploit the aquifers, and detract for a private use a resource that belongs to everyone. Knowing well who consumes the water is key to good management.

The hydraulic nationalism of the PP

The PP and some of the governments of the Autonomous Communities where it governs (Murcia, Valencian Community, Madrid) are using the drought against the government, which they do not forgive for the repeal of the Ebro transfer, and above all for having lost the elections and the government . Nobody is to blame, politically, that it does not rain, but the PP where it governs has not adopted measures to face the drought, and has launched a permanent demagogic campaign against the socialist government, hoping to obtain electoral gains in the next confrontations.

The transfers are the subject of debate and confrontation, between political parties and regions, as happened with the Ebro transfer, it occurs with each new transfer from the Tagus and even with the planned one from Júcar to Vinalopó, which faces Valencia with Alicante.

The PP of Murcia and the Valencia Community have found the philosopher's stone, the hallmark that serves as a flag against the left and the government: hydraulic nationalism, the demagoguery of "water for all", and the demand for the transfer of the Ebro, or of impossible transfers from the empty reservoirs of the head of the Tagus (Entrepeñas, and Buendía).

Today it is the Ebro, then it will be the Middle Tagus, later the Rhone, but not even with the
Amazons would have enough. More irrigation and, above all, golf courses and hundreds of thousands of new homes for all Europeans who have to pay for them, at the cost of the destruction of the coastline and all kinds of ecosystems. One of the organic intellectuals, and certainly the most intelligent, is the journalist from La Verdad de Murcia (from the Vocento group) Manuel Buitrago. What he says one day, the next day is repeated like parrots by all the regional leaders of the PP. Buitrago illustrates them and gives them the sophistication and grace that they don't have. It is a pity that such an intelligent and lucid person as Buitrago is at the service of "water for all golf courses".

The speech, by force of force, has penetrated deep, especially in Murcia, where there is the widespread ideal that “we want to steal their water”, although in no other region has the government invested so much to correct a voracious demand, fueled by new irrigation, legal or illegal, urbanizations and golf courses, and all this in the most arid region of Europe, in that Levante that goes from Alicante to Almería.

They talk about agriculture without subsidies, but they forget to say that without the tariff barriers they would not be able to compete in the European market, without forgetting the enormous impact of water consumption, the destruction of habitats, pollution by nitrates and pesticides. And at some point they will have to pay the “real price” for the subsidized water they consume, as established by the Framework Directive of the European Union.

But even more deplorable is the creation of dozens of new golf courses, always linked to large residential complexes, with their corresponding demand for water, in the most arid region of Europe. What is there no water? Well, it is brought from wherever it is, and if the headwaters of the Tagus are dry, then the middle Tagus is used, and when the PP returns to the government, the transfer of the Ebro will be made through Cañetes, whatever the cost, and when the Ebro is ends, the Middle Tagus, the Duero, the Guadiana, and it will end up interconnecting all the basins, to bring the water from wet Spain to dry.

The hydraulic nationalists do not understand ecology or economics, nor do they need to. His thing is demagoguery and permanent mobilization, creating new hydraulic identity marks, which make forget all their failures, and their real politics, urban speculation and the enrichment of a few promoters, and use the meat farmers of cannon, instilling in the population a feeling of injury and victimhood.

It is curious that the president of the Vinalopó “irrigators”, Andrés Martínez, is the promoter of a golf course and 1,500 homes in Villena.

It is not necessary to be as clever as Francisco Camps to intuit why he wants the transfer from Júcar to Vinalopó through Cortes de Pallás, and why he, and the PP, is so outraged by the change in the route. They say that the water in Cullera is contaminated and does not serve for the golfers promotions of the president of the irrigators of the green.

Managing demand versus increasing supply

Like so many basic things, we only perceive the importance of water when we lack, or are affected by a drought like the one we suffered in 2005.

Water policy is one of the most confrontational issues, as shown
the controversies surrounding the transfer of the Ebro, the Tajo-Segura or the Júcar-Vinalopó, or the construction of some reservoirs, such as Castrovido in Burgos, or Biscarrués in Aragón, or Riaño and Itoiz in the recent past.

We all use water, whether for urban supply, irrigation,
industrial uses or even golf courses, and we all want to pay the least
possible. The needs are endless, but the resource is scarce.

How much water is enough? Who sets limits and rations scarcity? Who pays for the supply and purification? And how long can we endure the demagoguery of Andrés del Campo, president of the National Federation of Irrigation Communities of Spain (Fenacore), who opposes something as elementary as paying the price of the water they consume? The low prices of water for irrigation systems encourage waste, prevent modernization and are a hidden subsidy, paid by all citizens, by financing reservoirs and pipelines with public money, not to mention other externalities, such as diffuse pollution by nitrates and pesticides, or the opportunity cost of water, which if used in one use, cannot be used in another. Farmers, of course, are going through a difficult situation and they must be guaranteed a decent standard of living for their activity, one of the noblest that exists (producing the food we consume), but this does not necessarily mean guaranteeing water to a price well below its cost. Irrigation uses almost 80% of the water in Spain, and represents a tiny percentage of GDP and of the employed population.

The drought accentuates the need for a new water policy that guarantees more equity, more efficiency and more sustainability, taking advantage of the best available technologies, and that combats waste, insufficient resources and water pollution.

The new water policy includes demand management, as opposed to the traditional approach based only on the supply of new hydraulic infrastructures, such as reservoirs and transfers, which, if necessary, must be carried out analyzing their costs, viability and impact on the environment.

Desalination and the reuse of previously treated water are some of the technologies to be promoted more and more, taking into account the effects of climate change on the availability of continental water resources; But it is also a priority to optimize the use of water, by modernizing irrigation, improving water quality and promoting efficiency in the use of current surface and underground water systems, reducing significant losses in the water networks. distribution.

Do more with less

In times of scarcity you have to do more with less, and that is precisely what is called efficiency, which should be the north of water policy, rain or not. The new Framework Directive of the European Union will also oblige us to improve quality, without forgetting the important role of water in the conservation of ecosystems. The impact of infrastructure costs on users, although it does not please those affected, especially irrigators, accustomed to the State (that is, everyone) running with the expenses and investments, will undoubtedly serve to consume water with more efficiency.

The policy of the Government and the Ministry of the Environment (the AGUA Program) tries to solve the problems of water in Spain, providing water earlier, cheaper than with the transfer of the Ebro, with less damage to the environment and of higher quality, than with the previous alternatives of the PHN of the PP, or those of the PHN of the PSOE of 1996. The AGUA Program It does not pose unsolvable conflicts between Autonomous Communities, unlike transfers between Basins, and it adapts to the new legislation of the European Union, and especially the Framework Directive 2000/60.

Today it is convenient to solve sensibly, without so much tension, the problems related to water and the current drought, whether of quantity or quality. The real drought of ideas is that of the hydraulic nationalism of the Murcian and Valencian PP, clinging to the Ebro transfer as a lifeline, if not hydraulic, at least electoral (or so they think). The priority should be to increase efficiency in all uses (or what is the same, to provide the same services with less water consumption), reduce losses in distribution networks, improve wastewater treatment and reuse them for certain uses (irrigation, cleaning of streets, golf courses, public gardens), installing the twenty large planned desalination plants, taking advantage of groundwater sparingly, applying a price policy that avoids waste and passes costs on users, and implementing new management models, including public water banks, giving priority to supplying the population.

Of course, those of the PP now want to take advantage of the public water banks to try to strain the Ebro transfer again, and continue with the tension, while they put all kinds of trips to the desalination plants for environmental reasons! Precisely they, the new Atilas of concrete and the golf green, where only brick grows and the only green is the green (President Aguirre plays every day, before granting some digital television to her friends from the far right). Now it turns out that they have become environmentalists and have discovered the environmental impact of brine and boron, or that the new route of the Júcar-Vinalopó transfer crosses several "protected areas", they, whose pulse does not tremble to requalify as urban any area, in order to build a new urbanization with its corresponding golf course, which both helps the revaluation and gives added value to its speculative projects.

Mariano's Chinese tale

According to Mariano Rajoy “desalination is a Chinese story. If we win again, the Ebro transfer will be built because the option of desalination plants makes no sense. They pollute and they are not going to be done either ”. Mariano's "Chinese tale" is the 750 desalination plants in Spain that provide 400 cubic hectometres per year, supplying a population of two and a half million people, and by 2007 they will be able to solve the water deficits of Murcia, Alicante, Almería, Malaga and the Balearic Islands, and even Barcelona.

The contrast with the supposed benefits of a hypothetical transfer of the Ebro, are evident to any impartial observer, and even the international press, from Le Monde to The Economist, have harshly criticized the repealed transfer, only defended by the PP and some related media . Regardless of its economic and environmental unfeasibility, the water transferred each year would depend on rainfall and the situation in the Ebro basin throughout that year, which would have constituted a risk for all users of the transfer, even greater for users located at the end, that is, mainly for Almería and Murcia.

The above figures include both the desalination of brackish waters (salinized groundwater, either from coastal aquifers in direct contact with the sea or isolated aquifers) and marine waters.

Half corresponds to marine waters and the other to brackish waters, although the number of plants to desalinate seawater is less than that of brackish, since these are of lower capacity.

Desalination plants give drink to 121 million people in the world, at a cost that today does not exceed 40 euro cents per cubic meter. With a payback period of 15 years and raising the water to a level of 100 meters, the cubic meter of desalinated water costs 0.45 euros at most. According to CEDEX, 40% is energy expenditure, another 40% is work, and 20%, personnel and repairs. A price well below the 91 euro cents per cubic meter of the Ebro transfer, and which will continue to decline in the coming years.

Spain is one of the countries with the best desalination technologies, which places us in a privileged place in a rapidly expanding sector, as is the case with wind energy and photovoltaic solar energy. In fact, we export the technology to countries as varied as Algeria or the United States. Desalination plants will create jobs and a business fabric, generate technological innovation and exports, and their costs can still be greatly reduced. Desalination plants are the future, and whoever develops this technology further will have a significant comparative advantage in a world where water demands are growing and most of the population lives in coastal areas.

How much do desalination plants consume?

The President of the Government of the Region of Murcia, Ramón Luis Valcárcel, stated in statements to Antena 3 that a desalination plant uses a quantity of energy “much greater than a transfer, 6.6 kilowatts / hour per cubic meter, compared to 4, 5 kilowatts / hour of a transfer ”.

As the real consumption of the desalination plants does not exceed 3.5 kWh per cubic meter, if the data of the president of the Murcia region on the transfer are true, then the desalination plants consume 22% less than the transfer.

The Valencian Government Minister of Territory and Housing, Rafael Blasco, stated that "to desalinate the 650 cubic hectometres of water proposed by Narbona, between 650 and 700 million kilowatt hours are needed, which would trigger energy consumption in the Valencian Community." According to the minister's figures, it would take more than 10 kWh per cubic meter. It is likely that the minister has the data somewhat outdated, or has made the wrong decade. But for those who went from the extreme left of the FRAP to the PSOE, and ended up in the PP, for now, the figures are as fickle as the ideology, it depends on where you are, or so you must think. The same Blasco who wants to put a hundred new golf courses in the Valencian Community, with their corresponding thousands of residential complexes, and if there is no water, he transfers, which is what solidarity is for, to make a few rich
promoters friends and compadres of the green.

There are four basic energy consumptions associated with the desalination of seawater: pumping the intake to the inlet tank, the desalination process itself (reverse osmosis with high pressure pumps and energy recovery), pumping the produced water to the outlet basin and the elevation of the water from the outlet basin to the points of consumption. Regarding the desalination of seawater with reverse osmosis technology with energy recovery in the reject brine, not including pumping, the specific consumption figure to consider is 3.5 kWh / m3, and thanks to the innovations technologies that are emerging, is expected to drop to 2.7 kWh / m3. In fact, the latest generation plants consume less than 3 kWh / m3.

But the FAES gives other figures. The energy consumption of reverse osmosis desalination plants is 4 kilowatt hours per cubic meter, compared to 2 kWh for the Ebro transfer, according to a report from the University of Murcia commissioned by the Foundation for Analysis and Social Studies (FAES) , linked to the PP and chaired by Aznar. The FAES data are wrong: the Ebro transfer would consume 3.26 kWh / m3.

It would be desirable for those responsible for the PP in Murcia, the Valencian Community and Madrid to agree on some figure, because each one offers their own, to which more varied, from 4 kWh to more than 10 kWh per desalinated cubic meter, and what The same occurs with the transfer data.

Perhaps, in the rush to question the government's alternative, they have not had time to study real consumption. Nor do they need to.

The transfer would actually consume 30 percent more electricity than the desalination plants, since the water would have to be carried from the Ebro to Almería through 11 pumps that would raise the water to more than 1,000 meters above sea level. According to the Ministry of the Environment, the desalination plants contemplated in the Urgent Action Plan would consume 2,173 GWh / year (2,484 GWh if the pumping of water to the points of consumption is also included), compared to 3,423 GWh per year from the Ebro transfer.

How much carbon dioxide do desalination plants emit?

The Valencian Government Minister of Territory and Housing, Rafael Blasco, assured that the Desalination Plan of the Ministry of the Environment "will mean an increase of 4 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere per year, which is totally incompatible with the Protocol of Kyoto ”. "Not only will the electricity industries not be able to comply with the 3% reduction imposed by the PSOE Government, but they will increase their volume of emissions by 5% when the new desalination plants begin to operate," specified the minister, a former Marxist. Leninist-thought of Mao Zedong (another lover of water transfers). "If a second desalination plan is carried out to cover the water needs of the Valencian Community, Murcia and Almería, set at 1,000 cubic hectometres, the CO2 emission would increase to 5.5 million tons," according to Blasco.

But according to the Foundation for Analysis and Social Studies (FAES), linked to the PP, the production of 600 cubic hectometres of water by desalination would mean an energy consumption of 2,400 gigawatt hours (GWh), "which would produce an increase in carbon dioxide carbon (CO2) discharged into the atmosphere ”. The report indicates that desalination plants "would contribute to increasing the greenhouse effect with 2.4 million tons of CO2."

According to another report by the University Institute of Geography of Alicante, an entity at the service of the agitation of Valencian hydraulic nationalism, “it would mean increasing CO2 emissions by 3.2 million tons, which would further distance Spain from complying with the protocol of Kyoto, which established for our country the objective of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 15% below 1990 levels ”.

They were? Is it 2.4 million, 3.2 million, 4 million or 5.5 million tons of CO2? According to the Ministry of the Environment and our own calculations, these emissions will be reduced, in the worst case, to 873,000 tons of CO2 from desalination plants and 998,500 tons of CO2 if pumping is also included, barely 0.25% of current emissions of greenhouse gases in Spain, given that currently 402 grams of CO2 are emitted per kWh, with the current generation “mix”.

If an additional 1,000 MW of wind power are installed, to offset the electricity consumption of desalination plants and pumping, greenhouse gas emissions will be zero. In fact, the Renewable Energy Plan has raised the wind energy forecast for 2011 from 13,000 MW to 20,000 MW, based on the studies of integration in the electrical distribution network. The Ebro transfer would have emitted 1,376,000 tons of carbon dioxide, much more than the desalination plants.

The FAES-PP analyzes, such as those carried out by the Valencian and Murcian autonomous governments, seek to question the "heart" of two key policies of the Ministry of the Environment, but based on data that is less controversial, and probably erroneous.

Curious that the PP makes these analyzes, when in the eight years of government there was a great increase in CO2 emissions in Spain, no less than 36%. And now they are worried about 0.2%! The abandonment of the Ebro transfer was the most sensible alternative, and the desalination plants will provide water of higher quality, cheaper, with greater safety and much earlier than with the Ebro transfer.

Golf + urbanizations = transfer of the Ebro

An 18 hole golf course needs between 45 and 80 hectares. When the golf course is associated with a residential development, the consumption of water for filling private swimming pools and the irrigation of private gardens skyrockets, something especially serious in an area as arid as the southeast of the peninsula. And given the high consumption of land, they are usually located in sparsely urbanized natural areas or in agricultural areas. In fact, the irrigators are just an excuse, and cannon fodder for the demonstrations in Murcia or Alicante. It would be uglier a demonstration of promoters and speculators in their luxury cars, with Camps, Valcárcel and Mariano in the lead, Buitrago as the official chronicler, and with banners that read "Water for All Golf Courses".

Golf courses are generally associated with real estate operations, which are what give them their financial profitability. To install a golf course, trees and bushes have to be cut down, with the loss of biological diversity, although that does not worry the PP ecologists. Only the brine keeps them awake. In addition, the soil of the original terrain is replaced by a layer of gravel intended to promote drainage, which increases runoff and reduces the water retention capacity of the subsoil, increasing water consumption: between 360,000 and 500,000 cubic meters per year for an 18-hole course, in direct competition with other uses (agricultural, urban and those of nature itself), plus those of the associated urbanization, which are still much higher.

But just as important as the very high water consumption is the intensive use of chemical fertilizers and toxic pesticides. The greens are homogeneous monocultures, and their maintenance requires the use of herbicides and insecticides, which cause significant pollution.

Of course, for Blasco and his co-religionists of the PP, golf courses improve the environment, as they replace arid lands with extensive green areas, in closed urbanizations outside their geographical and social environment, with almost zero impact on the surrounding areas, since everything it is bought within the complex. What does have to be paid for and outsourced are waste collection, water supply and sanitation, the provision of which may end up being a heavy burden for municipalities. Private benefits, public spending, that is the maxim of hydraulic nationalism.

The A.G.U.A. versus the Ebro transfer

1. More water: 1,063 cubic hectometres of water, compared to 1,048
cubic hectometres of the transfer.
2. More quality: the contamination of the Flix reservoir highlights
the water quality problems of the Ebro in its lower section, which is
where the transfer would start. The water from the desalination plants has an optimal quality.
3. Cheaper: 3,900 million euros for the A.G.U.A. program, compared to 4,200 million euros for the transfer.
4. Less electricity consumption: 2,484 GWh from the A.G.U.A. program, compared to 3,423 GWh from the Ebro transfer.
5. Less emissions: 998,000 tons of CO2 from WATER, including pumping (0.2% of Spanish greenhouse gas emissions), while the transfer would emit 1,376,000 tons, without using renewable energies in both alternatives and with the current electricity generation mix.
6. Less space occupation: 2,252 hectares in the case of the transfer, while the desalination plants affect only 55.89 hectares
7. Lower environmental impact: with the current technology of diffusers and outfalls, brine has practically no environmental impact on seagrass (Posidonia oceanica) and, in general, on the Mediterranean. The movement of earth of the planned desalination plants amounts to 482,517 cubic meters, compared to 28.5 million cubic meters of the transfer. The transfer of the Ebro would also have had a great impact on numerous protected areas.
8. The water will arrive sooner, and in 2007 the first important contributions will be made.
9. No conflicts between Autonomous Communities.
10. Greater safety, as it does not suffer the variations of the hydrological cycle and the impact of climate change on the transfer.
11. The A.G.U.A. gives higher priority to savings, efficiency and sustainable demand management than the PHN.
12. Adaptation to the legislation of the European Union, and especially to the Framework Directive 2000/60.

* Rico Amorós, Antonio M .; Olcina Cantos, Jorge; Paños Callado, Vicente; Castiñeira Baths, Carlos. Purification, desalination and reuse of water in Spain (regional study). Barcelona: Oikos-Tau, 1998.
* II National Congress Aedyr. La Desalinización y Reutilización del Siglo XXI. Alicante, 21-22 de noviembre de 2001.[En CD-Rom]
* López Geta, J.A.; Mejías Moreno, M.. Las aguas salobres. Una alternativa al abastecimiento en regiones semiáridas. Los acuíferos costeros y las desalinizadoras. Almería, 2000.
*Ministerio de Medio Ambiente, Programa A.G.U.A. (Actuaciones para la
Gestión y Utilización del Agua). Madrid, 2004.
*Ministerio de Medio Ambiente, “Memoria ambiental comparativa entre las actuaciones urgentes en las cuencas del mediterráneo y la alternativa al proyecto de transferencias autorizadas por el articulo 13 de la ley 10/2001, de 5 de julio, del plan hidrológico nacional. Madrid, 2004.
*Libro Blanco del Agua. Ministerio de Medio Ambiente, Madrid, 2000.

*José Santamarta es director de la edición española de la revista World Watch.
Revista World Watch nº 24

Video: Spain: The Battle over Water. European Journal (May 2021).