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The Urban Water Summit underscores the risk of inaction in the urban water cycle

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  • The Urban Water Summit underscores the risk of inaction in the urban water cycle
    Photograph: Pablo González-Cebrián/Smart Water Magazine
  • The Urban Water Summit underscored the risk of inaction in the urban water cycle.
  • The Spanish Minister for the Ecological Transition brought the Urban Water Summit to a close.
  • Gari Villa-Landa (AEAS) reminded us that 'in 19 years of the Water Framework Directive we have only achieved a good water status in 40% of water bodies'.
  • Gonzalo Delacámara (Water Economy Forum) stated that 'the water sector has never had the importance it deserves and has not been considered in national policies'.
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The Spanish Minister for the Ecological Transition, Teresa Ribera, brought to a close the first edition of the Urban Water Summit at the Roca Madrid Gallery, a unique event in Spain where discussions focused on water management in cities. Issue no. 22 of iAgua Magazine, the magazine of the key players in the water sector, was also presented at the summit.

During her speech, Teresa Ribera emphasised that 'water, together with energy, is one of the major issues the Ministry for the Ecological Transition (MITECO) has to deal with'. She also noted that the 19 rulings by the Spanish Supreme Court on the subject of water in the past months should make us reflect about the role of this resource, and that 'there is room for improvement regarding conciliation and dialogue between the different government levels' on this matter.

The minister also referred to the situation in Spain concerning sanitation and waste water treatment obligations: 'it does not measure up to our level of development'. Another topic she addressed was the diversity of sources: 'we need to ensure integrated and coordinated management of all water sources', and 'we have to continue to vouch for efficiency and demand management'.

She closed her address highlighting the value of the work done at discussion fora such as iAgua's Urban Water Summit and the Water Economy Forum to show the importance of water management.

The event also hosted two intense debates on the challenges that the new political leaders will have to face in this regard, and showcased the best success stories dealing with water management in cities, presented by leading sector companies.

Opening

Elisa Martínez Bermejo, Manager of Roca Madrid Gallery, opened the event.

Next, Águeda García de Durango, Chief Editor of iAgua and Smart Water Magazine, presented the key contents of the magazine, such as the long-established iAgua Magazine Forum or the interviews with major players: Gonzalo Delacámara, Academic Director of the Water Economy Forum; Fernando Morcillo, President of the Spanish Association of Water Supply and Sanitation (AEAS); Manuel Valls, running for mayor of Barcelona in 2019; or Iván Tallón, Water Sales Director for Spain at Schneider Electric, among other contents of interest.

First iAgua Magazine Dialogue: Gari Villa-Landa

After presenting the contents of the magazine, a new edition of the iAgua Dialogues took place. This was a discussion format where David Escobar, iAgua partner, talked with Gari Villa-Landa, Head of International Affairs of AEAS.

During the conversation, Gari Villa-Landa highlighted that in the European scene, 'water cannot be dealt within isolation. There should be coordination with other policies, such as the Common Agricultural Policy'. She also pointed out, referring to AEAS, that 'we felt a bit on our own while participating in decision-making processes on water in Brussels. We did not receive enough support from our ministry', and she criticised that 'the Commission's regulatory proposal for water reuse uses a fragmented instead of a holistic approach'. 'Spain should follow the example of Germany or the Netherlands and come forward with a common position agreed upon by all water stakeholders', she noted.

Concerning her vision for Spain, she said that 'the urban water cycle has not been part of water governance in our country for a long time. We are working to change that'.

Water management in 21st century cities

A first set of talks, focused on current water challenges in cities, was held after the dialogue. The first speaker was Rogerio Koehn, Service Utilities Development Director at Acciona Agua, who spoke about water management in a Latin American city: Boca del Río, in Mexico. He highlighted that 'the challenge in Latin America is ensuring a better perception of the service by citizens'.

Felipe Guinea, Director of Structured Financing at Almar Water Solutions, followed. His presentation focused on new funding and management models for the construction and operation of water infrastructure in cities, and showcased the case of Mombasa, in Africa. He concluded that 'Africa is a market with a huge potential, but you need to have money and patience'.

Bernardo Mingo, Director of Development and Marketing at Gestagua, moved on to information and transparency of water management in cities. 'Information and transparency will change the rules of the game: this will affect business models' he advised.

Next, Jaime Castillo, Director of Institutional relations at Global Omnium, presented on 'Entrepreneurship and innovative ecosystems for water management in cities', and stated that 'we have to make a great effort in terms of communications, together with good content. We have made good progress and we continue to do so, with artificial intelligence and with human intelligence, to address water issues'.

The last talk in this first set of presentations was given by José María Ardoy, Director of Aqualia Vigo. His talk, focused on water management in the Galician city, pointed out that 'in the past 25 years we have made a great effort to improve the network and implement smart elements'.

The role of technology in improving the efficiency of urban water services

After a coffee break, a new set of presentations focused on the role of new digital tools in improving resource management in cities.

The first talk, by Iván Tallón, Water Director for Spain at Schneider Electric, described the company's involvement in the waste water treatment plant of Seine Aval in Greater Paris. He finished his presentation noting that 'the next steps at the waste water treatment plant include better asset management, with preventive maintenance'.

Jorge Helmbrecht, Director General of Watener (INCLAM Group), moved on to talk about the water-energy nexus in water management in cities: 'the supply of water and of energy depend on each other; we need a joint approach, taking into account the geographical context'.

To conclude the series of presentations, Miguel Ángel Pérez, Standardization Manager at Saint Gobain PAM, talked about a case of efficiency in water distribution networks in cities. 'Security is the basis for reliability', he pointed out during his presentation.

Second iAgua Magazine Dialogue: Gonzalo Delacámara

In the second iAgua Magazine Dialogue of the day, the Director of iAgua, Alejandro Maceira, had a rich discussion with Gonzalo Delacámara, Academic Director of the Water Economy Forum. During the conversation, Delacámara affirmed that 'Spain is unequivocally recognized as a global success story regarding water and sanitation services', although 'there is no room for complacency'. 'The problem is not only a lack of investment, but also a lack of strategy. It is necessary to guarantee water security in the medium and long term, and take into account climate change', he added.

Furthermore, and concerning opportunistic messages about management models as we approach the elections, he pointed out that 'the discussion should not be about having a private or a public management model. It is false to say that by definition a private operator is efficient, or that only public operators are committed to the public interest'. His message is that 'in the municipal context, the message should not only be about lowering tariffs, but about the tariff structure'.

Finally, in our current context, 'we have to understand that climate change is a change in the water cycle, and ensuring water security in the long term is a collective challenge', he noted.

Ultimately, the Urban Water Summit underscored the risk of inaction in the urban water cycle.

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