THE SPANISH NATIONAL HYDROLOGICAL PLAN
by Valérie Lacroix
Academic Year 2001 - 2002
Briefing for a reduction of environmental impacts
A. Analysis of the situation
1. The National Hydrological Plan, a geographical distribution of the water
2. Water management in Spain, between tradition and modernity
Actors and controversies of the Ebro transfer
B. Proposition of modification of the Ebro transfer
1. General definitions of the action plan
2. The desalination of seawater at Almeria
3. Agro-environmental program for climate adaptation
A. Analysis of the situation
1. The National Hydrological Plan, a geographical distribution of the water
by the Spanish Government in February 2001, the National Hydrological
Plan (NHP) aims to construct more than 1000 Km of canals, 118 dams and
41 desalination factories over a period of 8 years.
Situated in Aragon, north-eastern Spain, the Ebro estuary, described by the NHP as abundant, covers an area of 85550 km². The distribution of 1050 hm³/year of the river's rate of flow corresponds to estimation, for 2025, of demographic and economic growth of the receiving provinces. Table 1 demonstrates the impossibility to satisfy the future demand for water with the presently available resources.
Agriculture, which represented 77.6 % of Spanish water consumption in 1999 (http://www.ine.es), is the main beneficiary of the Ebro transfer: 56 % of the diverted water will be attributed to irrigated land, against 44 % destined for urban use (http://www.mma.es). In order to offset the urban demand for water, which increases considerably during the tourist season, the NHP anticipates the construction of 16 desalination plants along the Mediterranean coast, thus producing an extra 464 hm³ of water.
Feasible thanks to the technical progress in hydraulic infrastructure, the Ebro transfer remains a project firmly anchored in Spanish history.
2. Water management in Spain, between tradition and modernity
the end of the Second World War, water management in Spain consists
mainly in managing supplies, setting up mammoth projects of hydrological
engineering for the production of electricity, irrigation and distribution
of water (O.C.D.E. (1997), Examens des performances
environnementales, Les Editions de l'O.C.D.E., Paris, p. 66).
Built in the 60s, the first big transfer intends to deviate 600 million
m³/year of the Tage river (west/centre-west) to Segura (south-east).
The promulgation of the New Water Law in 1985 and the adherence to the European Community in 1986 have marked a change, setting the accent on management and protection of the environment. This law assimilates the European directives on water, in internal Spanish law, prior to its implementation. ( ) It constitutes the framework for planning estuaries and encourages the participation of consumers in water management (O.C.D.E., o. c., p. 60). .
equipped with modern legislation towards a sustainable development,
Spain is in the meantime confronted to a long agricultural tradition.
Although it is the most arid of all E.U. countries, Spain has seen its
irrigated surface grow at twice the rhythm of other Mediterranean countries.
to a 1996 study by the O.C.D.E., the average yield of water consumption
in Spanish irrigation systems is below 47 %. More than 70 % of irrigation
systems in the country are older than twenty years and 29 % are over
two hundred years. The small size of irrigated exploitations (average
2.2 hectare), the number of small plots, the bad state of numerous irrigation
and distribution canals harm the exploitation of these systems. Only
one third of systems use modern methods such as local irrigation by
way of sprinkling or runoff.(O.C.D.E., o. c., p. 67-68).
Source: National Institute of Statistics
If the National Irrigation Plan, adopted in 1996, anticipates the modernisation of the current irrigation system, there still is a lot to do to improve the agricultural productivity, and consequently lower the water consumption. Synthesising the problems to solve, the White Book of Spanish Waters of 1998 insists on the necessity for Spain to distance itself progressively from the agricultural model.
Heavily marking the south of the country, the draughts at the beginning of the 90s have mapped out the importance of guaranteeing water distribution to the population. Responding to this apprehension, the NHP appeals for inter-regional solidarity to guarantee a homogenisation of the resources to the whole of the territory.
Written in the tradition of water management in Spain, furthermore associated with construction by the state after the Second World War, the NHP nevertheless adopts certain modern ways:
-- The Integral Plan of the Ebro Delta allots 500,000 million € to evaluate and reduce the environmental impact of the lowering of the rate of flow of the river following the transfer. Moreover, water will not be taken from June until September included, nor when the rate of flow is lower than 100 m³/s.
-- Of the 20,000 billion € earmarked to elaborate the NHP, 958,594 million is destined to modernise the distribution system, 427,996 million to water purification and 286,717 million to reforestation of the area.
To secure a return on infrastructure investments, the Ebro water will
be sold for 32 cents €/m³, whomever the user. Inconvenience:
because of the preferential tariff maintained until now, this new tariff
represents eight times the median price paid by the farmers of the Mediterranean
coast and two times less what urban consumers pay (Table 2).
3. Actors and controversies of the Ebro transfer
biggest hydrological project ever contemplated in Western Europe, the
Ebro transfer has given rise to a controversy without precedent in Spain.
Ever since the presentation of the project, more than a million people
have demonstrated against "the water highway".
The Spanish government hopes to get E.U. subsidies to the tune of 30 to 40 % of the total investment (20,000 million €) needed to accomplish the NHP.
Several influential institutions of the E.U., such as the European Parliament, the Environmental Committee, or the European Environment Agency, have strongly criticised the plan. The NHP will thus go against four European directives:
_ The Water Directive and the Marco Directive. The last, for which final approbation is expected in 2003, defines an isolated management for each estuary and if need be, the consent of the E.U. Moreover, it is stipulated that in a conflict situation, the interests of the assigning estuary will have priority.
_ The Directive Habitat ensures the protection of sites of the Natura 2000 network. The NHP will affect the ecosystem of about 70 sites of this network.
_ The Directive concerning the conservation of wild birds; the Ebro estuary, affected by the transfer, is indeed an important transit place for a number of migratory species.
The E.U. institutions have advised that other alternatives, such as desalination, reuse of residual waters or introduction of real-price where not studied sufficiently.
the final decision concerning the granting of the finances will be taken
based on a still running study by the Environmental Directorate-General.
The Partido Popular (P.P.), benefiting of a large majority in the government, has thus had facilities to get the NHP approved. However, the opposition has taken the debate to the political arena.
The Water Counsel is the highest advisory organ for questions of national interest about water and, notably, for the NHP. It is composed of representatives of the central authorities and of the autonomous regions, estuary agencies and groups of professional and economic vocation interested in water questions. Thus uniting differing interests, the Water Counsel has debated the pros and cons of the NHP, during five months, before approving it in January 2002, with 69 votes against 15.
The Ministry of the Environment is the competent organ for all questions concerning water. It has given total support to the government, notably by positive presentation of the project to the population.
the Ministry of the Environment, the General Directorate for public
works and water quality (
) elaborates the NHP and supervises the
regional entities, the Autonomous Communities set their own objectives
in matters of water management.
charge of conducting the NHP, the Estuary Agencies play a capital role
in water management at regional level. From the hydrological plans of
the estuary they have elaborated, they prepare investment programmes
for the infrastructure of distribution and water treatment. (
The Estuary Agencies also grant concessions for the different uses of
the water: hydroelectric production, supply to cities and agriculture.
Representing the most water demanding economic sector, the Irrigation Associations bring together farmers with the same concession. They can play an essential role at local level, since every change in water consumption by the farmers has to be negotiated with these associations.
With 40 % of the investment coming from the private sector, the NHP presents itself as a promising instrument for economic development, and consequently benefits of the support of diverse pressure groups.
the massive implantation of dams in Spain, the hydroelectric lobby uses
its significant influence in water management. The construction of 118
new water reservoirs, planned by the NHP, represents a huge economic
revival for this sector.
Another important pressure group, the lobby of the concrete producers will benefit from the NHP on two levels. Indeed, if the construction of dams is profitable in a direct way to this group, the building of tourist complexes that will result from the greater water availability is sure bait. The Mediterranean coast is definitely over-developed, but the southern stretch, from Murcia to Almeria, is relatively undeveloped. The approval of the NHP has allegedly started real estate speculations in this region.
The big agricultural exploitations and the Irrigation Syndicates are two other pressure groups that would benefit from a greater water supply.
Greenpeace, WWF and European Rivers Network are the three International N.G.O.s fighting the NHP. According to Greenpeace, the Ebro transfer satisfies only the interests of the private sector. Their denunciation, according to which the Ebro water will irrigate 66 golf courses at Murcia and Valencia, and the hotels that serve them, has a mobilising purpose.
More extreme, Ecologistas en Accion is an organisation uniting almost 300 ecological groups in Spain.
The organisations COAGRET and the Platform for the Defence of the Ebro defends the people affected by the transfer. They denounce the displacement of villages during construction of the dams, and the negative consequences of the diminution of the rate of flow of the Ebro on the agricultural and fish breeding activities in the estuary.
Uniting experts of more than 70 universities, the Foundation for a New Water Culture has a more scientific approach to the transfer project.
These N.G.O.s express public awareness campaigns towards the population, organise demonstrations against the Ebro transfer, and put pressure on the divers actors. Thus, under impulse of the Platform for the Defence of the Ebro, the COAGRET and the European Rivers Network, the Blue March of September 2001 brought together 10,000 Spaniards before the E.U. to protest against the financing of the NHP.
The Advisory Mission of the RAMSAR Convention on Estuaries
Spain is a member of this co-operation organ for the conservation of estuaries. Following an environmental impact study, the advisory Mission concluded that the NHP could have a consequent impact on the Ebro estuary.
E.U., Autonomous Communities, N.G.O.s, scientists and experts are all actors that criticised the Ebro transfer. This summary of the principal accusations and alternatives will enable us to better establish an action plan satisfactory to most of the actors.
The environmental impact of the Ebro transfer
the 70 sites of the Natura 2000 network affected by the transfer, the
Ebro estuary gets the most attention from the opponents. Second patrimony
in European bio-diversity, the Ebro estuary is already menaced by intensive
rice growing that covers 65 % of the estuary. According to the Advisory
Mission RAMSAR, the transfer could have a major impact on the fauna
and flora of the estuary for three reasons :
According to a biologist present at the International Conference on the NHP , the transfer would also have repercussions on the ecosystems of the receiving rivers. Just to mention one example, the piscicultural fauna would know a decline following the modification of its habitat, the barrier effect of the dams and the introduction of exotic species.
actors opposed to the transfer all agree on one point: the consequences
of the global warming on the Ebro estuary have not been taken in account
by the NHP.
case of the Tage-Segura is usually used by the opponents of the Ebro
transfer to warn against the inflationary spiral of the demand for water
that can result from such transfers.
to the Aragonians, the Ebro transfer puts the accent on the economic
imbalances between the interior regions and those of the Mediterranean
basin, benefiting from the tourism industry.
Another geographical imbalance that the NHP will provoke is the exodus from the interior zones to the Mediterranean coast, already overpopulated.
If the NHP includes, as we have seen, different ways to manage the water, the entirety of the Ebro transfer could, according to the critics be replaced by a series of alternatives.
is a general survey of the proposed solutions aiming to augment the
offer of water:
important part of the Spanish electorate is reticent to the Ebro transfer.
It would therefore be prudent to consider a reduction of the environmental impacts of the Ebro transfer project.
1. General definitions of the action plan
If the Ebro transfer leads to undeniable negative effects, the opponents of the project often forget to take in account the following socio-economic restraints:
- The southern part of the Mediterranean coast sees regular draughts, with repercussions on the national economy because of a lower agricultural productivity.
- The vast experience of dam management in Spain prevails over the risks that not known alternative techniques represent.
- The transfer implicates an economic development, and the creation of many work places. Because of this, it is upheld by influential lobbies.
Abandoning the project is thus unthinkable at this stage. But, it is possible to reduce the environmental impact of the Ebro transfer and reconcile the interests of the economic actors. To do this, the modification of two fundamental parameters must be put in place at different levels of hydrological work :
volume of water removed (calculated in hm³)
between the two variables on the level of water service to Almeria is
evident. Indeed, for a supply of only 9 % of the total of the water
taken (95/1050), the distribution network is lengthened by more than
30 % (300/1020).
lowering the environmental impact on the Ebro estuary supposes a greater
reduction of water volume taken.
Physical assessment of these two action plans :
of 23 % of volume of water taken (1050-95+(50x3) = 805 hm³)
At this stage, the modification of the Ebro transfer project already offers different advantages:
- The environmental impact on the Ebro estuary is lowered by the reduction of water taken.
- Moreover, the number of Natura 2000 sites affected by the transfer is reduced by more than 300 km.
- The E.U. would appreciate the effort undertaken and would undoubtedly release its funds more easily.
- Presented as a compromise with the population initially opposed to the project, these action plans have the capacity to resolve a conflict that has risen to the national level. Distributing the reduction of the water distribution over the whole territory maintains a non-conflictual equilibrium.
- The main economic actors of the initial project are not excluded.
- The investment saved on infrastructure could be reinvested in the realisation of the proposed alternatives. A study of the cost of these projects must be made in this sense.
- The application of these two action plans results in the creation of new employment.
- The degree of dependence to a water source, most uncertain (lowering of the rate of flow of the river due to draught or climate change) is reduced.
- This project means a first big step for Spain, towards a sustainable water management. Creating small models will permit to win experience of the alternatives, so that they can be reproduced on the rest of the territory.
- These action plans are in concordance with the White Book of Water in Spain, according to which "the proposed solutions from the new hydrological policy will not be used for a single instrument only, taking in account the diversity of the problems."
During the International Conference on the NHP, the majority of experts and scientists present have favoured the desalination of sea water above other alternatives to the transfer.
Indeed, this technique has many advantages for Spain. With an annual production of 60 m³, Spain distinguishes itself as the first country in Europe and fifth in the world to use this resource. Thanks to research done to better the profitability of the desalination plants, Spanish companies are now exporting their technology. Constructed since the 60s to respond to the growing demand for water on the Canary Islands, desalination plants are now to be found all over the south of the country.
At Almeria, the desalination plant of Carboneras, under construction, is proof of this advance: with a capacity of 120,000 m³/day, this factory will be the most productive in Europe. The system of reversed osmosis by membrane, greatly favoured in Spain, will be put to work there because it has many advantages towards distillation.
environmental impact of the desalination must however be taken into
account. According to the CEDEX (Centre for Experimentation and Study
of Public Works), the desalination of 500 hm³ of water defined
by the NHP will implicate emission of 0.8 to 2.5 million tons of CO².
Desalination plants consume enormous amounts of energy, because the
water is propelled in the system under high pressure.
The renewable energies and the research in new desalination techniques permit however to propose three systems wherein the environmental impact seems to be considerably reduced. These alternatives should be studied for environmental impact as well as feasibility, so as to define the solution best adapted to the province of Almeria.
Renewable energies for desalination
to an industrial engineer of the Institute for Technology of the Canary
Islands, wind energy can reduce the price of desalinated water by 30
% or more, if the sale of excess energy is taken into account.
a public company belonging to the Ministry of Agriculture, exports this
procedure capable of making fresh water at a cost of only 22 cent €/m³.
The sea water is descended to a depth of 500 m, so that the natural
atmospheric pressure facilitates the process of reversed osmosis.
by 'Almeria de Investigación y Proyectos', this sea water evaporation
system under vacuum results in a boiling point of only 17°C, which
reduces considerably the use of energy as well as the cost (25 cent
€/m³). To the distilled water resulting from this process,
mineral salts (urban use) or fertilisers (agricultural use) are added.
80 % of total water consumption, agricultural uses arouse, as we have
seen in the first chapter, complex and numerous managing problems. Resulting
from an obsolete infrastructure, the losses on the level of the distribution
network reach almost a quarter of water consumption. The widespread
use of the irrigation technique by submersion is also an important cause
of water loss on the agricultural level.
Undertaken during the great draughts of the beginning of the 90s, this project aims at adapting the cultures of Daimel to the dry Mediterranean climate, which extends to the central plateau of La Mancha. Contrary to the CAP of the E.U., that grants funds for the entire production, the Program for Compensation of Income gives selective aid to farmers, depending on the type of culture. Table 3 shows that the CAP has increased agricultural water consumption, while the Program of Compensation of Income has halved consumption in seven years.
Arrojo Pedro et Al. (janvier 2002), Analysis of the Strategic Environmental
Assesment document of the NHP
Based on this model, the agro-environmental program should be adapted to the climatic and geographical conditions particular to each region. A global method could nevertheless be followed :
of a local group
incentive to put to work, parallel to this project, would be the creation
of a Water Bank . California, that faces the same climatic and agricultural
conditions as Spain, has resorted to this system to overcome the draughts
of the beginning of the 90s. By way of 351 contracts, the Water Bank
has bought the water from the farmers to sell it to urban consumers
at an elevated price, which provoked a drop in demand.
Three fundamental advantages of the agro-environmental program :
- Following regular water deficits, Spanish farmers have the habit to adapt their cultures at short notice.
- This action plan is likely to attract a growing number of farmers from the start of the Ebro transfer. The rise of the water price to 32 cent €/m³ will be a catalyst for the lowering of water consumption.
- The extendable character of this action plan permits to act on the long term.
Articles and books
Arrojo Pedro (juin 2001), " Gestion de l'eau comparée de l'Espagne et de la Californie ", Bulletin de liaison de la Plate-forme de Défense de l'Ebre.
Arrojo Pedro et Al. (janvier 2002), Analysis of the Strategic Environmental Assesment document of the NHP presented to the European Commission by the Spanish government, Dept. of Economic Analysis, Zaragoza University.
Estevan Antonio, Les compensations en eau pour l'agriculture continentale prévues par le PHN, http://www.rivernet.org.
Maia Rodrigo (2001), Sharing the waters of the iberian peninsula, Faculty of Engineering of Porto University, Portugal.
Ministerio de Medio Ambiente (1998), El Libro Blanco del Agua en España, http://www.mma.es.
O.C.D.E. (1997), Examens des performances environnementales, Les Editions de l'O.C.D.E., Paris.
Octavi Marti (décembre 2000), " L'Espagne victime de son hydroschizophrénie ", Courrier de l'UNESCO, http://www.unesco.org.
RAMSAR (septembre 2001), Ramsar Advisory Mission to the Ebro Delta, Catalonia (Spain), http://www.ramsar.org.
S.F. (octobre 2000), " Conflits sur le partage de l'eau en Espagne ", Transrural Initiatives, http://www.globenet.org.
Wong Arlene K. et Al. (1999), Sustainable Use of Water, California Success Stories, Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security, Oakland.
(International Conference about the NHP)