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Barcelona floats creative solution to water crisis

This week, it began importing potable water by ship as part of a broader effort to meet needs. Its reservoirs are down to 20 percent capacity.

A ship loaded with drinking water is seen docked in the northern Spanish port of Barcelona as part of an unprecedented emergency plan to alleviate a drought in the city. The ship was carrying some 5.3 million gallons of water, roughly enough to satisfy a day's requirements for 180,000 people.

AP Photo/Manu Fernandez

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With Spain’s average rainfall down 40 percent last year, many cities have restricted residents from filling their swimming pools or watering their lawns. But perhaps no municipality has developed such diverse and creative solutions as hard-hit Barcelona, which this week began a €44 million ($68 million) operation to bring in drinking water by ship.

On Tuesday, the first vessel – from the southern city of Tarragona – arrived in Barcelona’s port, where firemen discharged the ship’s 20 tanks into a pipeline linked to the city’s water distribution network. The next day, Barcelona residents were drinking Tarragona water from their taps.

The measure is designed to stave off a water crisis that has been building for some time and has reduced Barcelona’s reservoirs to 20 percent of their capacity.

“For the past four years, we’ve had a shortage of rain,” says Narcis Prat, a water expert at the University of Barcelona. “Now we have a shortage of water. Without significant rain, we only have enough to last until December.”

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.

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