Our distribution network is leaking

The growing scarcity of water forces an improvement in its management. Our country is currently facing a worrying drought situation that makes regular access to natural water sources difficult. This risk, typically known in some regions in the south and east of the country, is increasingly spreading to the rest of the national geography.

And all this despite the fact that Spain has more than 155,000 km of distribution networks for its supply, more than 140,000 km of sewage, hundreds of drinking water treatment and wastewater treatment stations, desalination plants, pumping stations and more than 1,200 large dams. With these infrastructures, it is possible to supply more than 4,000 hm3 of water per year for urban use. However, much of the infrastructure dates back to the 1960s, so the supply pipes, in many cases, are more than 50 years old.

As indicated, the deployment that was made of the infrastructures requires appropriate renovation and maintenance, especially when we see that Every year more than 700,000 million liters of water are lost in our country due to breakdowns and deterioration. of the pipes, which represents 20% of the amount of water stored in our territory. The water cuts that occur in some towns are a clear indicator of the poor state of the supply network.

Every year more than 700,000 million liters of water are lost due to pipe breakdowns and deterioration.

Experts warn that there are indeed leaks that represent a annual loss of 652 cubic hectometers of water, and they consider that we suffer from a serious lack of investment in infrastructure. The supply and renewal systems of hydraulic infrastructure are the responsibility of the town councils, so many of the services are subcontracted, which prevents greater control by the administration.

Investments and cost shortages

One of the realities is that the Government has stopped investing a third of the budget allocated to water at a time of full crisis that has been aggravated by the serious drought. Already last year 2023, only 1,600 million were allocated compared to the 2,500 million budgeted for investments. These figures clash head-on with the situation in other neighboring countries.

80% of the water stored in Spain is for agricultural use, and 15.5% for domestic use

If we take as reference the study carried out by the consulting firm Red2Red commissioned by Facsa, regarding the water management model in Spain, we can see how European countries that charge more for water can invest more in infrastructure to optimize reservoirs and their distribution. And Spain has one of the lowest water rates in the European Union, seventh from bottom, with a average price of drinking water is 2.3 euros per cubic meter, compared to the 9.3 euros it costs in Denmark, 4.5 euros in Sweden, or 4.1 euros in France. As a consequence, Spain, along with Malta and Belgium, are the countries that have the greatest water stress in the EU. European regulations require that the price must cover all costs, but the Spanish administrations, until now, have given up building new infrastructures.

The study also warns that consumption in our country is extraordinarily high and efficiency in its management is relatively low. An increase in prices could help improve investment, but greater awareness is also needed in the population.

national water pact

The capacity of dammed water in Spain is 56,000 cubic hectometers. However, with the current situation of shortage that we suffer, as is the case of Catalonia or Andalusia, the volume of dammed water barely reaches 50.13%. In this situation, water stress reaches 42%, which places our country in third place in the EU ranking, only behind Malta and Belgium. To this we must add that 80% of the water obtained is destined for the agricultural sector, a very high figure if we take into account that the European Union average is only 28%, according to the study.

With these precedents and in view of the effects that climate change is producing, experts propose an urgent review of the current governance system so that it can evolve towards a regulatory framework that encourages citizen participation and contributes to more sustainable management, both from both the environmental and economic point of view.

For the specialists at Facsa, the company in charge of carrying out the study, “the creation of a national water fund that facilitates investment, in line with public-private collaboration, are fundamental. It proposes a new water management model based on a decalogue that goes from the creation of a National Water Pact and greater investment in infrastructure, to the commitment to the circular water economy and digitalization. Furthermore, it focuses on a necessary asset for society in general, such as promoting awareness and sensitization about the correct and responsible use of water.