BARCELONA RESIDENTS ARE TURNING OFF THE WATER TAP.
by Antonio Cerrillo
The inhabitants of Barcelona have learned how to turn off the
water tap. The year 2000 marked a new record in the reduction
in household water consumption in the 23 municipalities that comprise
the metropolitan area serviced by the "Aguas de Barcelona"
company. Teps suffering, the last of which took place in 1999.
The real achievement which that water-saving effort constitutes
- taking into account that we are referring to a natural resource
- has nevertheless been tarnished by an increase in water consumption
rates within Barcelona's greater region (a region which comprises
about one thousand municipalities that stretch from the Montseny
inland area to the Garraf coastline) as well as in the whole of
Catalonia. The decrease in household water consumption started
at the beginning of the nineteen nineties after the first water-saving
campaign (which had been launched as a result of the particularly
severe drought of the previous year) and the introduction of a
new kind of water bill that put up the price of the service in
order to penalize high consumption rates.
Nonetheless, the decrease is water consumption during 2000 was
of merely 1 per cent, and most experts are convinced that household
consumption rates cannot possibly be reduced much further because
current figures are already reasonable enough and the effects
of the public campaigns will necessarily become weaker and weaker
with the passing of time. Whereas this phenomenon is particularly
noticeable in the urban central area (Barcelona, Santa Coloma,
L'Hospitalet), the localities within the outer metropolitan area
(located outside the 23 municipalities serviced by Aguas de Barcelona)
are already showing an increase in water consumption. The reason
for it is the expansion of a town-planning pattern based on single-family
detached or semi-detached houses with a garden, which entails
a very intensive use of water (garden watering, household appliances
such as washing machines and dishwaschers, showers and, in some
cases, swimming pools).
In Barcelona's metropolitan area, the drinking water supply comes
from water-catchment systems in the Ter and Llobregat rivers,
whose flows are subject to fluctuations at low-water times. In
the first case, the water stored in the Sau and Susqueda reservoirs
is carried to the purification plant in Cardedeu and later supplied
to Barcelona through the Trinitat water tanks. And, in the case
of the Llobregat river, waters are harnessed in the area close
to Sant Joan D'Espí to be later distributed to the houses
through the urban piping network. A third "tap" can
be found in the subsurface flow of the Llobregat river, a strategically
important water reserve that can now be used - even though in
limited quantities in order to prevent overexploitation - thanks
to the wells dug by "Aguas de Barcelona". We could even
make use - in fact, it is already happening in extreme circumstances
- of the purification plant located in Abrera which is connected
to a large duct that is supplying water to diverse municipalities
within the Llobregat valley.
The central problem affecting water supply within the area of
Barcelona is the periodical episodes of drought which deplete
the water reserves from the Ter and Llobregat rivers at some times
of the year and can even hold a threat over the whole service.
The availability of a double "tap" (i.e. the Ter and
Llobregat rivers) allows the administration of the water supply
service some margin for action as they can use one or the other
according to the amount of water stored in the different reservoirs
at any given time; nevertheless, there have been times when the
area was running critically low on water supply. As a matter of
fact, between 1998 and 1999, the Catalan "Generalitat"
autonomous government implemented a decree that included diverse
measures to combat drought, such as a reduction in the amount
of water piped in from the reservoirs and other actions intented
to save water in the city by regulating its consumption for watering
parks and gardens, cleaning streets or ornamental uses (fountains).
No restrictions on household consumption have had to be imposed
yet, but this is an ever-present possibility which deeply concerns
the Catalan water supply administration.