A small drop of dew on the grass. EPA/EFE

The water situation in Spain

January 11, 2016.- The need to draw up a water policy in Spain, goes back to the 19th century. Since then, the importance of managing an indispensable and scarce good has been a constant in all governments.

Hydrological Plans

Last Spanish national hydrological plan (NHP) came into force on July 21, 2001. It was approved in the Government of José María Aznar (PP) and was paralyzed in 2004, after the Socialist relay in the Government, in the elections which took place on March that year.

In 1993, the socialist government of Felipe González presented its National Hydrological Plan, which was adopted by the Council of Ministers, but was not approved by National Water Council (NWC).

The previous hydrological plans date from 1902, 1933 and 1939. The first is attributed to Rafael Gasset, the second to Manuel Lorenzo Pardo and the General Plan of Hydraulic Works of 1939 to Peña Boeuf.

An irregular distribution

The rain water does not arrive in equal measure to the wet Spain, with an average rainfall of between 1,379 and 2,000 mm, and the dry Spain, whose annual rainfall is less than 600 mm. The contrast is similar in surface waters in the various river basins.

In Spain, the most arid country in the EU, water is not only poorly distributed, but it is also wasted.

Only agriculture consumes 80% of the country’s fresh water; urban areas consume 14% and industry 6%.

Water policy

Water policy in Spain has been directed to the increase of this resource, especially due to the increase in demand, which has risen from 30 l/capita per day 100 years ago to approximately 200 litres at present.

For this reason, the 2001 NHP was conceived as an instrument to establish a water map in Spain.

To accomplish the above, the 1985 Water Act, reformed in 1999, refunded and later on, adapted to meet the 1998 Cuenca Hydrological Plans and Community Rules, were taken into account for its elaboration.

Right from the start, the NHP stirred a great controversy, especially due to its most unpopular measure: the annual transfer of 1,050 hm3 of water from the Ebro River to the Catalonia basins of Catalonia (190hm); to the Júcar River (315hm); to the Segura River (450hm) and to the South (95hm).

To defend this measure the Partido Popular Government had to face political parties, environmental groups and autonomous communities (regional governments).

The Aragon Regional Government was the most combative region, with massive street protest demonstrations, together with Madrid, Catalonia and even Brussels, where some plaints were moved against the NHP of the Spanish government.

However, the National Hydrological Plan was approved by the Congress and Senate with the favorable votes of the political party PP, Catalans (CiU) political party and Canaries (CC) political party and after rejecting the alternative to the project of the Government presented by the PSOE political party in 2001, with nearly a thousand amendments and four vetoes of the opposition groups in both Chambers.

The National Hydrological Plan Act came into force on July 26, 2001 and in March 2004 the European Commission issued unfavorable reports on Community funding requested by Spain (1,262 million euros).

Eventhough the Sociedad Estatal de Infraestructuras del Trasvase (ITSA) (State-owned company of Transfer Infrastructures) was created and Prime Minister José María Aznar inaugurated its first works in November 2002 and and June 2004, all matters related to the Ebro Transfer were repealed by the Royal Decree Law of June 18, 2004, when the PSOE political party won the elections last March 2014.

The June 2004 Royal Decree Law fulfilled an electoral promise and included foreseen measures and actions of the so-called Water Programme (Actions for the Management and Use of Water) already presented by the PSOE as an alternative to the NHP.

Water Programme

The June 2004 Royal Decree Law, adopted at the Congress on April 21, 2005, included the repeal of the Ebro, a comprehensive review of the Water Act and the hydraulic works included in the Water Programme.

The Water Programme, of modular deployment and implementation throughout the national territory, contained a package of urgent measures to provide 1,058 hm3 per year to the Mediterranean basins, as well as the construction of approximately twenty desalting plants to obtain 621 hm3 of the 1,058 hm3 envisaged.

In Spain, seawater desalination, which removes the salt from the sea water to make water available for human consumption and productive, is practiced from the 1960’s and today, our country, the driest of the EU, is the fifth in the world with the highest number of desalination plants.


Traducción: Carmen Gilson

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