Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Water On The Brain

Now that I’ve recovered from my soaking in Barcelona the other day I can take a more reasonable look at the Mediterranean water crisis and its associated political fallout. The national government and its regional equivalent in Cataluña have got themselves into a mess over the proposal to pipe drinking water to Barcelona from the River Ebro. It was an inept start by the Catalan government that set the whole issue rolling; they started preliminary work on a transfer from a tributary of the Ebro without telling anyone what they were doing, even the people whose land they were surveying. Apart from setting different areas of Cataluña against each other, they had selected a river that further downstream runs through the province of Zaragoza – outside of their control.

The Partido Popular (PP) then predictably seized on the proposal to transfer water from the Ebro because the government had cancelled a scheme a few years back to do a connection between the Ebro and Valencia and Murcia. The government’s plans for water shortages on the Mediterranean coast are now almost entirely based around desalination plants, rather than transfers from rivers. Unfortunately the cancellation of the old transfer plan means that the word “trasvase” has become taboo, so in the case of the solution for Barcelona a different word had to be found and someone came up with “conducción” to describe what was being proposed.

Now, despite the noise from the PP, there are very significant differences between what is being suggested for Barcelona and the old PP plan for the Ebro. The transfer to Barcelona is going to be temporary as it is intended to fill the gap until a desalination plant comes on line next year. A more important difference is that the transfer is for drinking water for the city and comes from water that has already been assigned for use so it won’t affect the flow of the river. This is not water that is being taken to underpin an unsustainable construction boom or to make sure that golf courses built in dry places don’t turn brown. It is to ensure that a major city has drinkable reserves.

The PP wants people to think that Barcelona gets what Valencia and Murcia are denied. The reality is very different; apart from anything else these latter regions have received transfers of water when they need it on several occasions – from the River Tajo. The big problem with transfers from rivers is that, apart from ecological side-effects, they are tremendously unreliable. Despite the recent rains, the Ebro would have provided virtually no water to regions further down the coast had the PP’s plan been implemented – because for most of the last few years its flow has been below the limit at which excess water could have been transferred. The recent drought has affected the whole Mediterranean region, and that includes the Ebro; much of whose water runs off the Pyrenees.

Back in Cataluña the reservoirs have gone up a couple of percentage points with the water that didn’t fall on my head last week – not to mention some impressively large hail stones! Esquerra Republicana (ERC) seems determined to continue their game of participating in the Catalan government and aligning themselves with the opposition at the same time. So they will support a demonstration against the proposed scheme to solve Barcelona’s problem that has been agreed by the administration they form part of. Some of this may just be due to their own internal problems following the general election but there have to be limits to the game - at some point they might have to decide between the official cars or the street, and it can be cold and wet out there on the street.


Tom said...

I just think that ERC are in total flux at the moment. And that's mainly due to their disastrous performance in the Spanish elections. It'll be some time before we hear anything coherent from them. Hopefully, they'll get rid of both 'leaders' and go with someone younger.

It seems that members of the ICV (Iniciativa-Izquierda Unida-Verts) are also taking part in the demo (though apparently not in any official capacity), despite running the Generalitat's Environment department.

Graeme said...

:) Wonderful, all they need to do now is get Montilla to hold the banner at the front and they'll have everyone. It can be a massive show of unity...against themselves.

Sierra said...

Meanwhile, the new desalination plant near Mazarrón, Murcia (5th largest in the world, allegedly) is still only working at 50% of capacity because somebody (Narbona?) didn't realise that you need a lot of electricity to make one work, and there isn't enough available.

Joined-up government, or just not connected!

Graeme said...

Well I think I'm right in saying the one in Carboneras is working at less than 20% capacity, but that's because it's all it needs to do to serve the local area - they were going to ship water up from there to Barcelona at one point.