Barcelona Ships in Water – Part 2

Posted: May 19th, 2008 by: h2

I wrote about this story a month or so ago. I have to admit, this makes me sad. I lived in Barcelona, and I really like that city, and the Catalans in general. But even in the 90’s, when I lived there, two things were getting quite obvious:

  1. Catalonia was VERY dry. Dry as in global warming/drought dry.
  2. Far too many Northern Europeans were moving there, either to live, or to make vacation houses along the Costa Brava, and wanting of course to maintain their high resource consumption Northern ways.

In a year that so far ranks as Spain’s driest since records began 60 years ago, the reservoir is currently holding as little as 18% of its capacity – at a time of year when winter rains would usually have provided an essential boost by now.

Rainfall figures show a consistent series of shortfalls in recent years – just as Barcelona’s population has expanded to more than five million and the region’s booming agribusinesses demand ever more irrigation.

For residents here, the arrival of water by ship is a profound shock – normally it’s the drier areas further South that are notoriously parched.

Now the Barcelona authorities are having to take the unprecedented step for any major European city of topping up supplies by the highly visible means of giant tankers arriving in relays, each bringing 28 million litres, up to a dozen ships coming over the next month.
Ships bring water to parched Barcelona,, 13 May 2008

The reason that this makes me more sad than most stories is that Spain in general had one of the better ways of daily living around, relatively low car based, excellent rail and metro, low consumption, and high quality of real life.

This is one thing that brought in waves of immigrants from the rest of the EU, especially the richer parts of the EU, that suffer from a near pathological obsession with living in sunny, beach proximate areas, like the Costa Brava.

They even went to the extremes of building totally illegal settlements along the coast, which of course dipped further and further in the water supplies, while contributing absolutely nothing except some profits for developers. The Spanish housing bubble is beginning to unravel now in almost as spectacular a fashion as the US housing bubble.

But these stories miss the real problem with such bubbles, and with the Catalonian version especially: the ecosystem was too delicate to sustain this type of extreme growth and resource exploitation.

The Barcelona Pipeline Scheme

This is how Barcelona plans on trying to deal with the water shortage. The shipping in of water is only a temporary emergency measure.

So Barcelona has developed a daring plan: to build a pipeline through southern France and the Pyrenees to carry water from the Rhone River to Spain. The 200-mile aqueduct could provide water for more than 4.5 million people, who would pay for the project with higher water bills. Although the plan is still far from approved, it is the first time a pipeline of this scale to carry water from one country to another is being seriously considered in Europe.

Experts point to the scheme as a foreshadowing of things to come along the Mediterranean, where the climate is turning measurably drier and warmer.

Along Europe’s southern shores, from Greece to the tip of Portugal, agricultural lands of old are being reclassified as arid. The population, keeps rising, encouraged by tourism, while water supplies dwindle. Because of the dryness, forest fires and water rationing are becoming ever more common.
New York Times, July 19, 1999

Notice the date of that article, by the way.

It would seem that this complex plan never happened.

Professor Prat points out that the population of Spain’s second-largest city has grown by more than 1.5 million in the past 15 years, stretching limited resources further. That means the citizens’ “excellent” conservation habits aren’t enough, says Barcelona’s mayor, Jordi Hereu.

“The area of Barcelona is exemplary in its consumption,” he says. “But we’re talking about 5.5 million people…. And all of them have a right to water.”

The water boats are the most immediate solution, which will allow the city to forgo rationing over the summer. Ten ships will bring an estimated 2.6 cubic hectometers of water to the city each month for the next six months. Most of it will be bought from Tarragona and Marseilles, though some will also come from a desalination plant in southern Spain.

The city has entertained other ideas, too. Some have been discarded, such as importing water by train (too expensive) or diverting it from the Rhone (too lengthy a process).

Other measures, such as recycling water, are still in the works, though none offers a perfect solution. Newly dug wells have angered local farmers, who argue that they salinate native aquifers. A desalination plant, slated for completion in 2009, which will convert Barcelona’s seawater to fresh, has provoked the ire of environmentalists and raised concerns about other resources.

“Desalination plants require a lot of energy to run,” says Joan Armengol, professor of ecology at the University of Barcelona. “And just as we have a shortage of water, we have a shortage of energy in Spain.”

No measure has been more controversial than a pipeline to divert water from the Ebro River to Barcelona. In addition to concerns about compromising other areas’ water supplies, it has provoked charges of political favoritism, since the Socialist federal government approved the pipeline for Barcelona, which is also controlled by Socialists, but overturned plans for a similar pipeline to Valencia and Murcia, two thirsty areas run by the opposition Popular Party.
Christian Science Monitor, May 15, 2008

This story is painful to follow, to me this is all just more and more examples that we have definitely hit the tipping point for pretty much everything, water being just one very obvious example, oil being another, and a few more waiting just around the corner, like natural gas.

Spain unveiled plans on Friday to build a pipeline to relieve drought-stricken Catalonia and prevent Barcelona running out of drinking water, but other regions are up in arms in what media have dubbed a water war.

The pipeline will take water from the mouth of the Ebro River to Barcelona, the Catalan regional capital. A hosepipe ban has already been in force for weeks and picturesque fountains have run dry in the city, a popular tourist venue.

The government said on Friday the situation in Barcelona was an emergency.

“If we don’t act, the citizens of Barcelona will be without drinking water in October,” said First Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega, speaking at the maiden weekly press conference of the newly re-elected Socialist government.

Reservoirs in northeast Catalonia are just 20.1 percent full after four years of drought, according to the latest official data, or just 0.1 percent above emergency levels. One Catalan reservoir is so dry that a village has reappeared after being under water since the river flowing through it was dammed.
Reuters, Apr 18, 2008

You can read any of those articles, and I challenge you to find a single person who seriously suggests that Catalonia now has too many people, especially when you add in the drought/global warming related water shortages.

Such stories are going to become increasingly common as global warming pushes the dry landscapes towards arid, a process that was quite easy to see in the surrounding countryside of Barcelona, especially in the southern parts.

And it’s not only going to be this one region to experience such problems, in the United States, the South East and South West are both starting to experience pretty serious water shortages, as their populations skyrocket and droughts and water supplies get increasingly problematic.

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