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Managing water: the immediate challenge

July 23, 2015
  • The conclusions of the I Water Congress of Catalonia underline the need for sustainable and participative management in water and sanitation for economic and social progress.
  • The Catalan community is shown as a benchmark model for finding solutions before climate change and the increase in the demand for water and modernised sanitation.
  • Xavier Latorre, president of the Associació Catalana d’Amics de l’Aigua presented 12 conclusions to the congress held in the Roca Barcelona Gallery.

On the 14 July, in the Roca Barcelona Gallery the Associació Catalana d’Amics de l’Aigua presented the conclusions of the I Water Congress of Catalonia that the same association held last March in Barcelona.

The event was organised by the We Are Water Foundation and had the presence of Xavier Latorre, president of the Associació Catalana d’Amics de l’Aigua, who presented the conclusions in a hall crammed with people that showed the growing interest that questions of water and sanitation are raising in modern society, especially in Catalonia, where the management of the hydric resources clashes with problems that could be considered paradigmatic.

These encompass political, administrative, socioeconomic, infrastructural and climatic aspects, which makes the Catalan community a benchmark when drawing up roadmaps regarding the management of hydric resources in the large area of the Mediterranean arch, a geographical area particularly threatened by climate change and with the increasingly imperious need of implementing the concept of sustainability in its economic development.

Xavier Latorre firstly stated his satisfaction for the success of the I Water Congress of Catalonia, the main priority of which was to clearly define the challenges in the management of water and analyse and evaluate the future solutions that society demands. The congress was attended by over 300 leading members of the water sector; the six round table discussions brought together 39 experts and 18 talks were given that covered the wide range of socioeconomic variables that are intrinsically related with water, from agricultural development to supplying the city of Barcelona, passing through energy, industry, infrastructures of sanitation and the important question of research.

More than 15 hours of work drew up conclusions that have been summarised by the Scientific-Technical Committee of the Congress in a document with 12 points that represent the recommended roadmap for the community facing its future with regards to water and sanitation.

Latorre pointed out the 12 conclusions one by one, providing complementary clarifying data. The need to progress through consensus in the adoption of solutions with water management that must be public and with a new model of sanitation is the main pillar of the line of work that must emerge in the future. This must be a priority in order to increase significantly the public and private resources in R+D+i, achieving sustainability of the water-energy binomial and the optimisation of energy consumption of the EDARS (Purifying Stations of Waste Water).

The conclusions also point to the need to modernise irrigation and the contribution of water to industry, avoiding the over-expenditure of reuse and encouraging the role of the user communities in dialogue with the Authorities. On the same lines, they emphasise that, in the current economic situation, it is necessary to increase the personalised rates that enable us to respond to social objectives. In this sense, the conclusions of the Congress point to the fact that public participation in the management of water is a matter pending. We need to establish the channels that facilitate participation and restore the trust of the public in the administration of water. This is a challenge that must be faced before the reality of Climate Change that is a real threat with an increase in temperature and lower rainfall in Catalonia.

The 12 conclusions of the I Water Congress of Catalonia are: 

  1. The reformulation of the district river basin management plan of Catalonia must represent the strengthening of the guarantee of supply, mainly in the greater Barcelona area. A consensus must be reached on the solutions.
  2. In the water section research has a major part to play, but the current framework in which it is undertaken, particularly in the university field, limits it efficiency. Public and private resources in R+D+I must be significantly increased.
  3. Water management and hydrological planning is essential, and sustainable and adapted to the new context of climate change, where in Catalonia a certain drop in rainfall and rise in temperature is foreseen.
  4. We must advance in the sustainability of the water-energy binomial, through the optimisation of the energy consumption of the EDARS (Purifying Stations of Waste Water), incorporating a conceptual change as well, as centres of use of resources and energy sources.
  5. Urban approaches must clearly define the river-municipality relations, from an integrating viewpoint of the different disciplines.
  6.  Water, as a resource, does not have a price. We must talk about the cost of managing the water cycle services, including the environmental costs, in other words those deriving from the planned measures for reducing, eliminating or alleviating the pressures on the ecosystems. In the current economic situation we must implement personalised rates that enable responses to social objectives.
  7.  The most important industry in Catalonia is the food and agriculture industry. The modernisation of the irrigation system can no longer be put off, and a support system must be established that enables our competitiveness at a world level. The problem of contamination due to over-fertilisation has not been solved and more effort must be made to alleviate it, since this mortgages the future supply of water.
  8. Without forgetting the use of local or nearby hydric resources, the suitable measures must be established for reuse not entailing extra costs in water management for industry and irrigation in those cases where the legislation allows it.
  9. All water should be considered as public and, in consequence, its management should also be public. The administrations can delegate its management totally or partially in accordance with the legislation in force, but not the responsibility of the decisions that guarantee the good functioning of the water cycle services.
  10. The sanitation management model in Catalonia must be changed. The “roles” of the Administration of the Generalitat (autonomous government), of the local bodies and the managing entities must finally be specified. The economic crisis is generating a worrying deficit of maintenance of the infrastructure of the water cycle.
  11. The communities of users can play a relevant role in interlocution between the water Administration and the users for the management, protection and use of the volumes of water, sharing responsibilities in the technical, economic, social, legal and environmental spheres.
  12. The participation of citizens in water management is an unresolved matter. Channels need to be established that promote participation, which is not easy, probably due to lack of experience and also, due to a certain distrust regarding the role that the citizens can play. We lack pedagogy. Restoring the trust of the citizenry in the administration of water is the challenge.