Catalonia buys 13 desalination plants to avoid the use of tankers

change of course Farewell to water boats; portable desalination plants welcome.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
18 April 2024 Thursday 11:17
4 Reads
Catalonia buys 13 desalination plants to avoid the use of tankers

change of course Farewell to water boats; portable desalination plants welcome. The Councilor for Climate Action, David Mascort, has announced that the Generalitat will install a floating desalination plant in the port of Barcelona to be used in the event that the drought worsens in the region of Barcelona and Girona, and in a grade II emergency, which, according to current forecasts, could happen in October if there is no rain. Meanwhile, the Government has ruled out the use of ships from Sagunto. The floating desalination plant could provide a supply equivalent to 6% of water consumption in the Barcelona area (specifically, to around 27 nearby municipalities). In addition, the Government has planned the purchase of 12 mobile desalination plants for the Alt Empordà, where the emergency has reached level 2 and there is a risk that the supply will be compromised in the summer.

The floating desalination plants, equipped with a platform above the sea, are equipped with the necessary elements and technology to carry out a reverse osmosis desalination process. This solution would be activated coinciding with emergency II, which is not expected to be activated before October 2024.

The Government now claims that the floating desalination plant solution is more effective, practical and cheaper than boat transport. He judges that it is a more "economical, environmentally sustainable and much more stable solution to ensure supply". He adds that the cost would be half compared to shipping by boat. Desalinated water in the port of Barcelona could provide 40,000 cubic meters of water per day, while each ship alone would provide between 20,000 and 25,000 cubic meters. In total, they are 14.4 cubic hectometres per year (6% of consumption in those 27 metropolitan municipalities).

Overall, it has been planned that the Government will allocate 100 million euros to the floating desalination plant for operation for five years, although it is not an investment in the strict sense, but this sum includes all the costs of water production. The councilor clarified that these new resources will not increase the price of water for domestic users, as it is already included in the current tariff.

The desalination plant is to be built by Abengoa, it will be placed in a facility in the port of Barcelona and the water produced will be connected to the supply network directly. There will be no need for a new connection from the plant to the network, as the existing facilities will be used to discharge the water from the ships. The desalination plant is located at the port's Energia dock.

"The start of operation would be in October, which is when we predict that we will enter emergency II if it doesn't rain anymore", said Mascort. The Government buys the desalination plant for five years under the premise that in five years the two new fixed desalination plants planned will be built: the expansion in Tordera (Blanes) and the new one in Foix (Cubelles), and, in addition, the new regenerated water resources will be available.

In this five-year horizon, the new infrastructures would already be available and it is assumed that the floating desalination plant would no longer be needed. And what will be done next with this facility? "If then we need more water, we will keep it, and if not, the Government will sell it. It is an installation to cover the lack of water we have", said the minister. The port of Barcelona already has the facilities prepared for this connection, which are the same as those that were ready for the possible discharge of water from ships. Likewise, the point where the desalination plant and the connection of the water transport pipe will be located has been determined.

On the other hand, the Government and the Costa Brava Consortium (CACBG) have bought 12 mobile or portable desalination plants to supply a dozen municipalities in the Alt Empordà starting this June. This hydrological exploitation unit (Darnius-Boadella) is in emergency level II.

Four portable desalination plants will be installed in Roses, four at the Empuriabrava drinking water treatment station (Castelló d'Empúries) and four at the beach in this municipality.

The 12 desalination plants will have an approximate cost of 10 million euros (the cost per unit is 400,000 euros, and complementary facilities are added to this) and it is estimated that each of these facilities will produce 1,000 cubic meters of water per day, which means that it will be able to cover 35% of the water demand in the North Costa Brava served by the consortium. This entity will acquire the desalination plants while the Catalan Water Agency (ACA) will grant it a subsidy of 5 million euros to help cover the investment.

The eight Roses units and the Empuriabrava water treatment plant will be in operation in June or July, while the remaining four on the Empuriabrava beach will operate in September or October. "Either we found a solution or the supply of drinking water in these 13 municipalities, from Portbou to Empuriabrava, in Castelló d'Empúries, was at risk this summer", the councilor pointed out to justify this operation.

The construction of these desalination plants is also the result of the concern expressed by farmers, who fear that if new wells continue to be drilled there will be an increase in salinization in the fields. For this reason, the plan is not to open any more wells in the Alt Empordà.

The desalinated water will be used to supply Roses, Empuriabrava, Cadaqués, Llançà, Mancomunitat de Pau, Palau-saverdera, Vilajuïga, Garriguella, Pedret and Marzà, Port de la Selva and Selva de Mar. It is not expected that environmental impact statements will be made to assess the possible damage of brines (saline waste generated in the production of water in desalination plants) on marine biodiversity, since, according to the minister, the studies point out that these discharges of salt concentration do not cause damage to marine life.

The Government is forced to resort to desalination plants because if the current conditions imposed by the drought do not change (with reservoirs at 18% in the Ter and Llobregat systems), and until the necessary infrastructure is available to stabilize the situation, it is urgent to have new resources with a guarantee to avoid entering emergency II, which would entail the application of more severe restrictions. "Catalonia is shielding itself against the permanent lack of rain and the Government is providing the country with the necessary instruments to protect itself against the drought we are experiencing," said spokeswoman Patrícia Plaja.