The national pact for water cannot wait

He water pact It remains a mirage in Spain. For two decades, the PP and the PSOE have not been able to agree to design a transversal plan capable of addressing the increasingly pressing desertification. Some expert voices consider it urgent to approve a long-term State agreement between the Government and autonomous communities that plans, coordinates and standardizes water administration “whoever governs governs.” There is even talk of creating a National Authority that centralizes the management of basin water resources and the status of the distribution network itself. What do the expert voices think?

«What we need is a great State pact; It's fundamental. This means reaching a National Hydrological Plan model that allows water to be available in all regions. We have a good administration, but it is necessary to strengthen governance, reach agreements, especially, define the needs that exist and, from there, see how water is managed,” says Amelia Pérez, director of the Chair of Economics of the UNED water.

Enrique Cabrera, professor of Fluid Mechanics at the Polytechnic University of Valencia and former president of the International Water Association, also believes that there is a lack of consensus. «When we talk about centralizing, the interesting thing is to sit the actors down to talk and listen to the contributions of the technicians. “We have to weigh the uses of tourism, agriculture, industry… and decide what is the most interesting.” Instead, he notes that “we are fleeing forward to avoid debate. I don't want to alarm anyone, but water is not infinite, it cannot be moved easily and there is not enough for everything that everyone wants. So, as happens with budgets when there is no money, you have to prioritize,” he explains.

A State pact, adds Pérez, could guarantee greater investment. «It is necessary to increase what is allocated to new infrastructure – fundamentally in desalination and regenerated water – and to infrastructure that already exists, such as supply to cities and irrigation systems. The latter require a significant level of investment because the network is becoming more and more obsoletelarge leaks occur,” he warns.

The consensus is that the current system has holes. To Cabrera, the estimates of more than 1000 hm3/year in losses in urban supplies seem “very conservative.” He points out that in Barcelona, ​​which is going through an emergency declaration due to drought, they have limited water to 200 liters per inhabitant per day. «No one consumes that. The average in Spain is 130 liters. When they go up to 200, it is because there is something else».

Another of the biggest criticisms is the high number of organisms involved in the control and distribution of water. «We must reduce the number of actors; Governance is very fragmented: there are municipal powers, Hydrographic Confederations, regional water agencies, quality control depends on the Ministry of Health and environmental control on Miteco. There are too many actors and that is not good. It generates governance vacuums,” Cabrera criticizes. In his opinion, it would be necessary to have a regulatory body that eliminates the inequalities that the current municipal powers draw in matters of urban water.

«It is essential that a national organization level the rules of the game and challenge human consumption. We are talking about an inalienable right, which in the almost 8,200 municipalities that Spain has is provided in a very different way. Each town council makes a tunic out of its cape: There are success stories and towns where management is very deficient. There are citizens who drink water contaminated by nitrates or suffer cuts. It's not reasonable. The management has to be local, yes, but there has to be an entity that establishes minimums to be met by the municipalities, whether they carry out public or private management.

Cabrera invites us to modulate demand before supply. Establish usage priorities, improve efficiency and reduce water consumption by renewing pipes and channels; before considering transfers or reservoirs. «Infrastructure is a specific solution. We are the country with the most dams per inhabitant in the world. Can we do more? Sure. Is it the solution to all problems? I don't believe it. We must control illegal wells, take care of the aquifers and increase control,” he says.

Pérez shares the vision, but adds other possible avenues. «When we talk about a State pact, we are talking about another type of management. Bringing boats with water to Barcelona would be a band-aid. It is possible that this situation of drought and water stress will continue and, therefore, what we have to think about is a long-term situation: reduce consumption, reuse water and we can even consider connecting basins (there are examples such as the Tagus transfer). Segura), but the State must ensure that both parties benefit. This is done by establishing a national plan and providing it with investments that solve global problems with integrative solutions. The lack of water in Spain has already generated enough tension and it has been an electoral element. A pact for water could perhaps depoliticize it.

Joaquim Farguell, co-coordinator of the Master in Science and Comprehensive Water Management at the University of Barcelona, ​​is not of the same opinion. «First of all, we would have to see what a State Pact for Water means, because if it involves making transfers from north to south For everyone to water and grow beyond their capabilities, it doesn't seem like a good idea to me,” he says.

Secondly, he considers that the Ministry of Ecological Transition is the one that should perform this function. “Although water management is divided between autonomous communities and the Statedepending on the hydrological basins, in the end, it is this Ministry that collects all the Basin Management Plans and approves them in Congress before sending them to Europe, and could request modifications or clarifications if appropriate.

It is clear how water is managed in Spain: the rivers that cross more than one autonomous community are managed by the State through the Hydrographic Confederations. Those that are born and die within a region are administered by the community itself. «Spain is very diverse and each area has different needs. The role of the State is to guarantee water to everyone. In addition, it must invest in infrastructure that has nothing to do with the river, such as the desalination plantswhich do not depend on the river basin and reduce pressure on conventional water resources.

Farguell argues that transfers are an exhausted route, which violates the Water Framework Directive (which Europe approved in 2000) and “puts the entire natural aquatic environment at risk”, apart from “sowing great discord” between communities. «Let no one have the feeling that they are taking away their water and others have the feeling that “they don't want to give us water.” This is the role of the State, which must encourage the modernization of irrigation, solve the problems of water loss in the networks and put water into value. That is, invest in those solutions that do not depend directly on the confederations or the CCAA.

Likewise, he states that “we cannot continue expanding irrigated areas as if water were unlimited. The State has to agree on Ecology and Agriculture. You will have to water with desalinated water. That can make products more expensive, and the State has to intervene with subsidies. But we cannot continue with the policy of the 70s of “I need more water, let's build another reservoir.”

In short, Farguell agrees with the rest of the experts that we must learn to live using less water: «If the State pact goes in that direction, I agree, but I doubt it. Therefore, my opinion is that this role already exists and should be played by the relevant Ministry.

Cabrera has a similar opinion: «A pact for water is essential if it really is a pact, I don't care which party defended him, the first thing to do is sit down with the State and the CCAA to talk about the prioritization of uses. “If they don't sit down and talk, the rest doesn't make sense.” And the State pact will continue to be a mirage.