Lack of rain in Barcelona may see city ship in water from France

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Emergency plan could see tankers bring in liquid cargo from Marseilles

7 February 2008

MADRID - After suffering unprecedented blackouts and widespread transport chaos last year, residents of Barcelona have begun 2008 with an even bigger concern: the prospect of running out of water.

After months without any consistent heavy rainfall, Spain's second city and much of the surrounding region of Catalonia is preparing for a summer in which water restrictions will be the norm. The situation is so bad, that on Tuesday Barcelona authorities admitted they are considering shipping in water from France.

"It's not definitive," says Francesc Narváez, the head of the city's Environment Board (EMA), but, he argues, it would solve at least some of Barcelona's immediate water worries.

According to a plan first drafted in December, tankers could fill up with water in Marseille, travel the almost 200 nautical miles south and discharge their liquid cargo into specially built containers in Barcelona's port. In this way, the city estimates that it could cover around 12 percent of its water needs and overcome the shortfall from the lack of winter rains.

Many officials are hoping, however, that recent snowfall in the Pyrenees may alleviate at least some of the shortage and could make shipping in water unnecessary. Late last month, Francesc Baltasar, the head of Catalonia's environment department, said that the snows capping the region's portion of the mountain range hold the equivalent of 230 cubic hectometres of water.

Of that, however, most will end up in the Ebro River, which meets the sea 150 kilometres southwest of the city, while just 24 hectometres - the amount Barcelona uses in a month - will flow into the Ter-Llobregat water system that supplies the Catalan capital.

Shipping in water may therefore be necessary, but at best it will be only a temporary solution to the city's chronic supply problems.

"Catalonia is simply not prepared for a period of drought like the current one," argues Ángel Simón, the managing director of the Barcelona water company Agbar. "We need a lot more infrastructure," including new desalination plants, aqueducts and pipelines, he adds.

A study by Agbar shows, for example, that the amount of water flowing into Barcelona each year through the Ter-Llobregat river system has fallen by 20 percent in the last 40 years, leaving the city with virtually no surplus to meet increases in demand or falls in supply.

"Our margins are tight. Madrid has twice the water reserves we do, while Marseille has 10 times as many," Simón notes. "In our case we have reserves of 602 cubic hectometres to meet demand of 602 cubic hectometres."

[Copyright EL PAÍS / A. EATWELL 2008]

Subject: Spanish news

1 Comment To This Article

  • barrie harrop posted:

    on 17th May 2008, 11:13:53 - Reply

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