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Spain will invest more than €29 billion to improve water management

Spain is a land of contrasts, both in terms of its geography and its climate; in the last decade, rising temperatures and a lack of rainfall have put its available water resources at risk. As a result, the country is facing enormous water-related challenges: increasingly dry hydrological years, more frequent and severe droughts and a high percentage of soils at risk of desertification have caused 70% of Spanish river basin districts to have high or severe water stress levels.

More than three-quarters of the water demand in Spain goes to irrigation (80.5%), well ahead of urban supply (15.5%) and industry (4%), however, there is a very fragile balance between the water available and the water consumed: while demand has been increasing, the water resources available in many basins of the Iberian Peninsula have declined by between ten and twenty per cent during the second half of the 20th century. Although most of the country's demand is met by surface water resources, in some regions it is necessary to resort to groundwater extraction, as well as the use of non-conventional technologies such as reuse and desalination to meet demands and alleviate deficits.

In Spain, there is a very fragile balance between the water available and the water consumed

However, there are many open fronts in terms of water planning and management. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the Mediterranean region is particularly sensitive to the impacts of climate change, which means a high probability of deterioration of river ecosystems, a decrease in water security, and more intense episodes of floods and droughts.

To face all these challenges, the Ministry for the Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge (MITECO) has launched a series of millionaire investments that represent a historical milestone in water resources planning, in order to address the current water management issues and prepare for future ones. This unprecedented investment effort will be a turning point for water governance in Spain.

River Basin Management Plans: third cycle (2022-2027)

One of the main impacts of climate change in Spain is the increased risk of flooding

The third River Basin Management Plans (RBMP) (2022-2027) have changed the approach to water management in Spain and follow the line of the European Green Deal and climate change adaptation objectives. "The RBMP cannot continue to endorse former practices that have led us to the overexploitation of aquifers, the pollution of water bodies and the deterioration of our rivers," said the Vice President and Minister for Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge, Teresa Ribera, at the presentation of the draft plans last June 21, 2021. An investment of 8 billion euros up to 2027 was announced to improve the river basins, by the ministry and entities under it, together with another 13 billion by other agents, bringing the total investment planned for the six-year period 2022-2027 to approximately 21 billion euros.

In 2024, the 8 billion package will allocate 1.7 billion as part of the Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plan (PRTR) to three main items: wastewater collection, treatment and reuse, and infrastructure safety (650 million); restoration of river ecosystems, groundwater recovery and flood risk mitigation (800 million); and the digital transition of the water sector (250 million).

Flood Risk Management Plans

One of the main impacts of climate change in Spain is the increased risk of flooding; Flood Risk Management Plans (FRMP) are a fundamental tool to forecast and adapt to potential future scenarios. The second cycle of plans, up to 2027, seeks to improve knowledge and awareness, technological applications and coordination with public safety authorities. The plans are in their final stages of approval, with a planned investment of 2 billion euros according to the ministry (excluding river basins managed by regional authorities).

Advancing the digitalisation of water cycle management

The use of new technologies in water cycle management makes it possible to improve efficiency and make progress toward the environmental objectives set by national and international legislation; this has been shown in recent years thanks to the commitment of the water sector to advanced technology. In this regard, the Strategic Project for Economic Recovery and Transformation (PERTE) to advance the digitalisation of water cycle management is one of the most powerful lines of action launched by the ministry: a paradigm shift that will advance the modernisation of the water cycle through digitalisation, innovation and training.

The PERTE to advance the digitalisation of water cycle management is one of the most powerful lines of action launched by the ministry

The PERTE is expected to mobilise in the coming years 3,060 million euros in public and private investments, and trigger the creation of about 3,500 quality jobs, opening new professional niches in water management. As for the specific lines of investment, there will be several funding packages for authorities and entities in charge of urban water management, industry and for irrigation associations and groundwater users, with a direct investment of 1.7 billion, plus an additional 1.12 billion in public-private collaboration. Moreover, 200 million will be earmarked to implement digital technologies in irrigation and 225 million to modernise and support the digitalisation of river basin authorities and the automated hydrological information systems.

National Strategy for River Restoration 2022-2030

The National Strategy for River Restoration has an estimated investment of 2.5 billion euros

The impact of climate change on river hydromorphology and riparian vegetation in Spanish river ecosystems has resulted in changes in the flow regime and increased erosion. In order to improve the connectivity of rivers, Spain has had since 2005 a National Strategy for River Restoration, to support the recovery of water bodies and contribute to their good ecological status or good ecological potential, as per the Water Framework Directive. The updated strategy is now undergoing public consultation. It will restore 3,000 kilometres of rivers between 2022 and 2030 with an estimated investment of 2.5 billion euros, linked to the budgetary items of the Recovery, Transition and Resilience Plan and the European ERDF and LIFE programmes.

Groundwater Action Plan

Nearly all freshwater in liquid form is groundwater, the second largest freshwater reserve on the planet. Groundwater protection and sustainable management are a priority for water policy. In Spain, according to a European Commission report, 25% of the groundwater bodies do not have a good qualitative status, and of those, 92% do not reach that status because the extraction levels exceed the available resources. Moreover, in November 2022, the ministry announced that the country had registered the lowest groundwater levels in a month of October in the last ten years.

In October 2022, Spain recorded the lowest piezometric levels in the last decade for that month

To reverse the current situation, the ministry revealed during the CONAMA 2022 Conference some details about the Groundwater Action Plan, currently under development with a planned investment of 500 million euros. The plan focuses on improvements to governance instruments and the implementation of specific policies to prevent groundwater overexploitation and pollution.

Other important water investments

The Strategic Plan for Wetlands 2022-2030 – an initiative to prevent, halt and reverse the loss and degradation of wetlands in Spain was approved last November. Additionally, the ministry plans specific investments in some emblematic wetlands at high risk of degradation, such as the Mar Menor lagoon, and the Doñana wetlands.