From Conventional to Non Conventional Resources: The Modern Water Supply of Barcelona

Urban Water in Europe and North America: Origins and Developments
By David Saurí, Hug March, Santiago Gorostiza

The history of water supply in Barcelona parallels the history of its urbanization. In this city, river regulation and the expansion of the supply network towards increasingly distant sources were the norm for many decades.In the paper we offer a succinct account of how Barcelona and its metropolitan area have attempted to solve the issue of increasing water needs due to population and economic growth, and how the search for this precious resource has, in a way, finally come full circle with a desalination plant built just outside the city, and a large wastewater treatment plant equipped with the most advanced treatment systems.The paper is organized in three parts following a chronological order. In the first part, we trace the history of water supply in Barcelona from the end of the Spanish Civil War to the mid-1950s. This is a period characterized above all by the shift from groundwater to the surface water of the Llobregat River as the main source of water for the city. The second part covers from the late 1950s to the early 2000s and can be broadly divided in two sub periods : the golden age of river regulation and water transfers within the Eastern Catalan basins (until the mid 1970s) and the failure of the large projects during the following decades, such as the Rhône river water transfer. The third part begins with the demise of the Ebro Water transfer in 2004 and is characterized by the abandonment of large-scale water transfers and the preference for non-conventional resources, most notably desalinization of seawater.

Go to the article on