Can Spain achieve more efficient management?

The circular economy in the water cycle and its management is one of the key pieces on the path to sustainability. The scarcity of this essential natural resource makes its correct distribution one of the main points of friction and debate in the different administrations and institutions in charge of it, as has been seen in recent weeks in different parts of our geography, where the shortage of Rains have led municipalities to apply emergency restrictive measures in numerous localities.

Alberto Garrido, professor at the Polytechnic University of Madrid (UPM) and director of the Water Observatory of the Botín Foundation, considers that water and its management are very important to achieve the ambitious and necessary efficiency and sustainability objectives set by the UN. especially in two fields: “Efficiency in the productive uses of water and the purification of wastewater for subsequent reuse.” In Garrido's opinion, efficiency in water use should be a task “for all users”, from treatment plants or “biofactories” to end users when they open or close a tap in their home every day.

The 5R model

One of the means to achieve these objectives is the 5R model: reduce, recycle, reuse, recover and restore. Five concepts that, correctly implemented, guarantee the achievement of the circular economy in the water cycle. “This is a very ambitious model, especially because of the results that can be obtained,” explains Alberto Garrido. “It not only covers water,” he continues, but “biofactories can be a source of clean energy, in addition to providing nutrients for agriculture and even once again having a use related to human consumption, not in the mouth, but Yes, in water for bathing or for hygienic use,” says the expert.

The circularity of waterTania NietoThe reason

Although in California there is a pioneering model that has managed to reuse water in these terms, in Spain it is not yet possible to apply this model. The infrastructure is not adequate to carry out these processes, and the regulations do not allow, for example, the use of sludge from wastewater, rich in nutrients, in agriculture. “What we can do currently is work so that the competent institutions create a favorable regulatory framework that allows the implementation and development of all the possible uses and applications that biofactories offer,” concludes Alberto Garrido.

So, what can be done today to get closer to the circularity of water? Garrido explains how, armed and forced by the authorities in Brussels, new regulations in this direction will be applied in Europe: “In a short time, a community standard on underground water will become effective, especially looking at the quaternary treatment of water.” This regulation will be revolutionary in this sector, in the opinion of this UPM professor.

Challenges and solutions

For its part, the Spanish Chamber of Commerce published the challenges that Spain faces in this matter, and framed them in four main areas: challenges related to climate change, economic sustainability, legislative and regulatory changes and management model.

The transition towards the circular economy is the solution to all of them, but they take shape in different actions. Regarding the challenge of facing climate change, or at least trying to stop it, according to Garrido, “the different geographical and climatic characteristics of Spain make the hydrological infrastructure developed in each of them very different.” Innovation in irrigation systems with purified water is a solution in this sense.

Finding a necessary balance between new construction infrastructure and the renewal and adaptation of existing ones, as well as digitalization in all of them, is one of the most important tasks to guarantee economic sustainability. At this point, “public-private collaboration is more than necessary,” explains Garrido. In this way, the water demand of the different geographical areas of Spain can be satisfied more effectively, whether for human consumption or for agricultural, livestock or service sector consumption.

Finally, the innovation and development necessary for the implementation of biofactories is essential to fully adopt the 5R model, which will help a lot on the way to the goal.

All in all, it does not seem impossible to reach a point where both administrations and companies can act collaboratively for the benefit of a common good: make the most of natural resources and do so in the most efficient way for everyone, citizens, governments and companies.