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Desalinated water in our taps this autumn

With less water coming from the north of Spain, more will be produced on the southern coast

Desalinated water in our taps this autumnThe issue of water is a constant worry for the south-east of Spain: not only does the increased population need a reliable supply of drinking water, but for industry and agriculture it is also crucial that the lack of rainfall be taken into account and compensated for.

This is particularly true in the Region of Murcia and the provinces of Almería in eastern Andalucía and Alicante in the south of the Comunitat Valenciana, where for the last 35 years the Tajo-Segura “”trasvase” (water supply canal) has allowed both agricultural diversification and residential development to change the face of the regional economies. Those living in the city of Murcia in 1994 or 2003 will remember only too well how difficult life can become when the water supply is cut off for twelve hours a day, and this is one of the main considerations in planning the distribution of such a crucial resource.

Apart from the trasvase, an additional back-up is also in place in the shape of numerous desalination plants, which make it possible for seawater to be treated and used, but these installations have come in for criticism in recent years as most of them lie idle. Many see them as a waste of money, and in fairness as a result of the water received through the trasvase and the relatively high rainfall figures during the last couple of winters they have not been called into action.

All that could be about to change, though. The desalination plants are like a national army or a car insurance policy in one way: they seem to be money wasted until the day we need them, and with the signing of a new agreement it has now been made clear that there will be a reduction of between 50 to 60 hectometres per year in the amount of water made available to irrigation farmers in the south-east starting in October this year. This shortfall will have to be made up by the desalination plants.

The institution in charge of coordinating the water supply in the south-east is the Mancomunidad de Canales de Taibilla (MCT): the Taibilla is a river in the province of Albacete which flows into the Segura, and it is here that the Tajo-Segura trasvase connects to the Segura basin. Until now the Tajo has supplied a maximum of 131 cubic hectometres of water per year to the Segura, but with this being cut to between 70 and 80hm3 it will now be necessary to put the desalination plants to work at last.

At the moment the only activity going on at the four plants in San Pedro del Pinatar and Alicante is maintenance work, but they have the capacity to produce up to 80hm3 per annum, and it is foreseen that in the near future the 2.5 million inhabitants in the area will need to draw on this reserve capacity. There are also plants belonging to Acuamed in Torrevieja, Valdelentisco and Águilas, and these can be used to supplement the supply if necessary once the new hydrological year begins in October: in fact, the MCT has already been paying fixed costs stemming from these three installations despite the fact that the water they produce has been superfluous to demand, a situation which seems set to change radically in six months’ time.

For those of us who are mere domestic consumers of water there are only two issues which really concern us. Firstly, we need to be certain that our domestic water supply is guaranteed, and if everything runs smoothly we will be thankful that so much money was spent in the past on desalination plants as their usefulness is about to become indisputable.

Apart from that, for homeowners another important question is what effect this will have on our water bills, and the first indications are that the Ministry for the Environment will be looking to pass on any increased cost to industry and urban consumers rather than agricultural irrigators. Exactly how noticeable this will be remains to be seen, but unless there is an unusually high amount of rain over the summer we’ll be finding out before Christmas…

Murcia RegionRegion of Murcia

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