Water Management, Environment and Self-determination in Catalonia, Spain

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Case Description
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Geolocation: 41° 35' 28.172", 1° 31' 15.1046"
Total Population 7.5717,571,000 millionmillion
Total Area 31 89531,895 km²
12,314.66 mi²
km2
Climate Descriptors Continental (Köppen D-type), Dry-summer
Predominent Land Use Descriptors agricultural- cropland and pasture, agricultural- confined livestock operations, conservation lands, urban, urban- high density
Important Uses of Water Agriculture or Irrigation, Domestic/Urban Supply, Hydropower Generation, Industry - consumptive use, Industry - non-consumptive use, Other Ecological Services, Recreation or Tourism
Water Features: Ebro River
Riparians: Spain, Catalonia

Summary

The Generalitat of Catalonia is one of the 17 autonomous communities of Spain, with a strong cultural and political regional identity, born through history and strengthened by economic factors. The Ebro River Basin is one of the major basins in Spain, covering 85.362 km² of the territory and crossing several autonomous communities in Spain (Cantabria, Castilla-y-León, Rioja, Navarre, and Aragon) as well as a few hundred km² in Andorra and France before it flows finally into the Mediterranean Sea in Catalonia. Like other large rivers in Spain, the Ebro faces huge seasonal and annual variations, leaving hydroelectricity, agriculture and aquaculture and domestic users with a high degree of uncertainty. The flow in Tortosa, the last city before the Delta can vary from 32hm3 to 24000 hm3. To limit those effects, the Franco administration and later the Spanish Governments have decided to build several dams on the Ebro River, as well as canals and reservoirs to irrigate the dryer regions. It resulting in a decrease in quantity and quality of water flowing to the Ebro Delta, where “apart from problems with quantity, the river also suffers from quality questions due to industrial waste, agricultural run-offs, and salinization” (PDE in English)



Natural, Historic, Economic, Regional, and Political Framework

Ecological and geographical background

In terms of hydrography, most of Catalonia belongs to the Mediterranean Basin. The Catalan hydrographic network consists mainly of two important basins, the one of the Ebro and the one that comprises the internal basins of Catalonia; all of them flow to the Mediterranean Sea. The source of the river Ebro is in Fontibre (Cantabria). Flowing roughly eastwards it begins forming a wider river valley of limestone rocks when it reaches Navarre and La Rioja thanks to many tributaries flowing down from the Iberian System on one side, and the Navarre mountains and the western Pyrenees, on the other. There, the climate (the valley being isolated from sea air masses by surrounding mountains) becomes progressively more continental, with more extreme temperatures and drier characteristics. The valley expands and the Ebro's flow then becomes slower as its water volume increases, flowing across Aragon. The soils in most of the valley are primarily poor soils. After reaching Catalonia, the Ebro Valley narrows, and the river becomes constrained by mountain ranges, making wide bends. Massive dams have been built in this area, such as the dams at Mequinenza, Riba-roja, and Flix. In the final section of its course the river bends southwards and flows through spectacular gorges. After passing the gorges, the Ebro bends again eastwards near Tortosa before discharging in a delta on the Mediterranean Sea close to Amposta in the province of Tarragona.

File:Desembocadura del Ebro.jpg
Aerial photograph of the Ebro Delta, Catalonia
The Ebro Delta is one of the largest wetland areas (340 km²) in the western Mediterranean region. The modern delta is in intensive agricultural use for rice, fruit (in particular citrus), and vegetables. The Ebro delta also has numerous beaches, marshes, and salt pans that provide habitat for over 300 species of birds. In 1983 Spain designated a large part of the delta as Ebro Delta Natural Park (Parc Natural del Delta de l'Ebre) to protect the natural resources. A network of canals and irrigation ditches constructed by both agricultural and conservation groups are helping to maintain the ecologic and economic resources of the Ebro Delta.


Governmental, Political, and Legal Context

Spain has been managing its water since thousands of years, and has included a repartition of responsibilities and rights since the 20th century, covering 3 levels[1]:

  • At national level: Spanish Government has prerogatives for planning, inter-regional infrastructures, coordination with regional authorities, and protection of the public good. The State is therefore responsible for issuing the National Hydrologic Plan (PHN). It receives advice from the State Advisory Committee and delegates the implementation to the 9 basin based agencies. The Parliament votes the PHN.
  • At the basin level agencies: the Hydrologic Confederation of the Ebro (CHE), under the supervision of the Spain Government, is in charge of planning and managing the resource at the Basin level. It is composed of an advisory committee and a managing committee, with representatives of users, dams and other infrastructures owners and other stakeholders. The CHE also ensure scientific audits, predictions and information and is in charge of the consultation process around the Ebro River Basin Plans.
  • At regional level, the autonomous regional authorities have prerogatives on rivers that belong to their only territory. Local municipalities manage the local grids and privatize this task more and more in Spain, especially in big cities. Both authorities are members of the advisory committees at the national and basin levels.


This organization and the general demand-oriented water policy are based on the 1985 law on water, which was modified in 1999 to bring more attention to environmental issues. In 2007, a decree for droughts were signed and implemented, which defines thresholds to constrain the different uses, with the following hierarchy: human consumption, industry, agriculture, watering and finally environment. The European Commission charged Spain in 2005 for not completing the European Framework Directive on Water, both in terms of defining the rights and obligations of National government vs regional governments and in term of the economic mechanisms regarding individual water rights included in the Directive.

The first Ebro River Basin Plan designed under the European Framework Directive on Water was actually implemented between 2009 and 2015[2]. The elaboration of the Ebro plan includes the evaluation of a baseline and definition of objectives for the next 5 years, as well as definition of criteria to assess the achievements. Several working groups were created for the preparation of the 2015-2021 plan on the following topics: ecological state, chemical state, underground volumes, measurement program, agriculture, floods, data dissemination and information and economic aspects. Representatives from all sectors seat in those working groups to assess the past improvement and propose future objectives. The development then follows a public consultation process including preparation of thematic issues to be covered, hearing sessions from stakeholders from all sectors (comments were sent by a dozen of organizations in the 2013-2014 process), public consultation during 6 months on the basis of the initial documents. Then a strategic document is published, the EPTI (Provisional Schema of Important Topics), which is open for a second cycle of public consultation. After being approved by the central government and the regional governments concerned, the plan is presented to the European Commission (which should take place in June 2014 for the 2015-2021 plan).

The political context around the question of self-determination influences strongly the technical process of planning water management on the Ebro River. Not only the Catalan Government opposes the proposals that come from the central government, but competition between the autonomous communities (not only on water issues) adds on the complex context. If water has not always been a critical issue regarding Catalan autonomy, the chronic deficit of water in the region of Barcelona and the increasing need to supply the Southern regions made it more and more central recently. In addition, water issues are also instrumentalized to assess opposition to the central government. For instance, a coalition between the green party (15% of the seats at the Parliament) and the CiU party (center-right, governing with 37% of the seats), both pro-independence for Catalonia, probably allowed the Parliament rejected the PHE in the name of ecologic needs not being respected, especially for the Ebro Delta, while the Catalan Government earlier agreed on a new deviation of the Ebro for irrigation. The radical left at the Catalan Parliament, rejected the deviation in 2008, not for water reasons as such, but because the funding would be orchestrated directly by Madrid, while the 2006 Catalan Status was planning more financial autonomy for the Catalan Administration. At another level, the environmental protection of the Ebro as well as the willingness to gain some actual independence for Catalonia regarding water, the Catalan government supports a deviation coming from the Rhone River in France, despite the fact that no dialogue has been initiated with France and although the reduction of Barcelona’s water deficit in the last year would make this option irrelevant today.[3]


Social, Economic, Cultural Context

Cultural, social and economic reasons participate in the desire for more autonomy for Catalans. From the 10th century, Catalonia has been a specific entity, playing strategic roles and facing alternate periods of power and depression, including deprivation of cultural identity, until the restoration of Spanish democracy after the Francoist dictatorship. As assessed in the timeline, Catalans are today very sensitive to the space given to their specific language and identity and the memory of parents killed during the dictatorship is present in many families. 12% of the population claim to use Spanish and Catalan languages equally, whereas 45.92% mainly use Spanish and 35.54% mainly use Catalan, especially in rural areas.

On the economic side, Catalonia started its economic growth in the 50th and is now the highest GDP in Spain, although the 4th GDP per capita after the Basque Country, Madrid and Navarra. Its first sector is the service, with the tourism sector being predominant. Industry comes next with 40% of the GDP and the agriculture with 3%. The Catalan capital and largest city, Barcelona, is a major international cultural center and a major tourist destination. The economic advance of Catalunia is transposed in the amount of national tax that is paid compared to other regions. The economic crisis was a turning point for Catalans to openly assess the gap between their participation into the national economy and how they are served in return. Catalans regretted for instance that the first fast-train line was invested between Madrid and Sevilla, while a line between Barcelona and France would have connected Spain to Europe. Catalans accuse Madrid to disserve their interests for political reasons which in return increased the interest for more autonomy. The 2006 Catalan Status planned more financial autonomy for the Generalitat and this article was one of those canceled by the Constitutional Council in 2010.

The water issue on the Ebro and broadly all around Catalonia particularly concerns the Catalans residing in rural areas. The communities living in the Ebro Delta are clearly at the lowest level of the social ladder, living from traditional activities and feeling very far from the decision center in Barcelona. Few Catalans are opposing the liberal mainstream leading to demographic and urban explosion on the Northern East coast, although accommodation prices are increasing and it is now a problem to live in Barcelona for most of the Catalans. As elsewhere in Europe, the economic recession supported nationalist impulses, which are somehow at stake in the willingness to keep Catalan’s resources (financial, natural and human) for Catalonia.

Timeline

Start (End) Event
1936 1939 Spain civil war. One of the biggest battle tool place in Catalonia, in Corbera d’Ebre. Catalans were among the more active opponents to the General Franco who finally won the war, leaving Catalans as opponents for the following years of the dictatorship.
1939 1975 Under el Francoism, the right to speak Catalan was first removed, as well as any other regional specificity. National planning for agriculture and economy as a whole started during this period, as well as dams’ construction (in the 50’s and 60’s) to prevent the Ebro River irregular flow and irrigate the lands for agriculture. Southern regions were designated for agriculture (where sun is prevalent and work cheaper) and Northern regions for industry.
1975 2000 Dams, reservoirs, canals and underground deviations have not stopped being developed since the end of Francoism.

In the 70’s started mobilization of the population living along the Ebro against those projects. In the 90’s was set-up the Coordinating Association Against Deviations. In 2000 was created the PDE, Plataforma en Defensa del Ebro, which gathers several environmental, and socio-economic organizations as well as individual citizens and communities to fight further negative impact to the Ebro River and Delta water, both in terms of quality and quantity.

2000 2007 In 2001, the socialist government of José Maria Aznar votes the National Hydrologic Plan for Spain, which includes a 132 km canal from the sources of Ebro to the North East part of Catalonia and 40 more reservoirs (added to the 109 existing). Strongly opposed by all the Ebro riparians, the plan will not be implemented and even funded by the European Commission.
2000 2000 is also voted the European Framework Directive on Water which requires River-basin consultation, participation of civil society and balance between domestic, economic and environmental water uses. Basin-scale plans design processes should be implemented every 5 years and validated by the EU.

After being charged for not respecting the European Directive, Spain releases a new national plan in 2005, reducing the amount of water exported from the new canal, including efforts for water savings through better management and renovation of infrastructure, desalinization and water brought from existing deviations. The water price grows from 0,31 cent per litter in the previous plan to 0,36 cents per litter (and 0,50 for urban water) in the new plan.

2006 Vote by referendum in Catalonia of the 3rd “Catalan Status”, organic institutional regulation frame of the Autonomous Community. Its preamble defines Catalonia as a nation, and Catalan as a main language.
2007 2008 Severe droughts are impacting Spain and after 18 months, Barcelona’s water supply is at risk. The pressure brings the Ebro deviation project back to present, as well as other options (see below focus on the drought period). The deviation of Ebro is finally abandoned by the central government but maintained by the Catalan government.
2009 2010 The desalination plant of El Prat starts its activity in 2009, producing 200.000m3 per day and catering 20% of the population of Barcelona. Improvements in the water supply infrastructure at all levels and for all sectors are also implemented as decided in the different national and regional plans. It reduces Barcelona’s deficit in water drastically, but does not cancel it.
2010 The Spain constitutional court, after 4 years of debate, declares the 2006 Statute unconstitutional on several points. The fact that the right to be defined as a nation is denied and that Catalan cannot be the only language in the administration, added to the severe impacts of the economic depression in Catalonia brings popular protests. The regional elections of November 2010 bring Arthur Mas (center-right pro-independence) as the President of Catalonia.

DPE focuses its campaign on preventing the Ebro-Barcelona deviation. Several campaigns and protests are organized between 2010 and 1014.

2012 Arthur Mas recalls elections after 1 million Catalans protest in the streets of Barcelona on September 11th (national day in Catalonia). The political parties polarize their position between pro and against independence and Mas announces a referendum of self-determination in 2014. This referendum is anti-constitutional and won’t take place, according to the Spain government President Zapatero (PP, right). The relationships between Madrid and Barcelona are going worse and worse, impacting all sectors of public decisions, including water.

The new parliament includes a majority of pro-independence members, when Arthur Mas’ party allies with the Green Party.


Stakeholder Matrix

Stakeholder Analysis Matrix
Issues (top)
Stakeholder Group
Regional and national sovereignty Ebro water management and infrastructures Environmental issues in the Ebro Delta (quality and quantity) competition between urban, energy, agriculture, tourism and industry needs in Catalonia
Barcelona and the Catalan Government Want more autonomy in water management. Are likely to oppose any decision issued by the Central government. Changed position around a deviation from the Ebro in the last 2 years. Focus now on sufficient flow for environment in the Delta. Recently concerned by this issue (maybe for political reasons), support the protection of the Delta and the sufficient amount of environmental flow Want to find a long term solution to chronicle lacks of water in Barcelona. Favor a deviation from the Rhone (France)

Needs to satisfy all of those sectors.

Aragon and Navarre Autonomies (upstream major provinces of the Ebro basin) Although they like their autonomy, there has always been some competition with Catalonia. There is less demand for independence Want to keep “their water” and favor alternative solutions than deviation from the Ebro. Previous demands of deviations for upstream needs were refused by the central government Not concerned. Feel like the coastal areas are already privileged economically. Energy, urban and agriculture needs in upstream regions should be a priority
Other neighboring Autonomous Communities Other Autonomies are beneficiaries of the national policy which supports water transfer to the South. They also think that solidarity should prevent to the poorest regions The water should be transported to those who need it the most, especially intensive agriculture areas. Not concerned Agriculture is the highest priority
Farmers involved in intensive agriculture Are less interested in those political aspects want to extend their existing land and water capacity to continue Water-intensive agriculture (fruits and vegetables, rice…). Which means more irrigation capacity from the Ebro (from existing infrastructure mainly) Not concerned, except for the rice crops, which are traditionally based in the Ebro Delta and used to benefit from more nutriments. Agriculture and agro-industry are a priority
Plataforma en defensa del Ebro And Delta communities Their priority is to defend the Ebro Delta environment. Therefore they are likely to oppose the decisions made from Madrid and from Barcelona, if they oppose their interest. They would rather support local policies and are connected to the Green Party in Barcelona, pro-independent. The water should not be further taken from the Ebro, alternative solutions should be found. Existing infrastructure have ended in the current catastrophic situation in the Delta and should be stopped or even removed. Both quality and quantity of water are concerned Highest priority Require a change in the economic development model, for a more sustainable, less consumerist one. Concerned by the lack of sediments that arrive to the Delta caused by dams and deviations. Live on traditional aquaculture and agriculture as well as eco-tourism
Catalan urban citizens Mainly support self-determination of Catalonia, especially from the last 4 years with the economic and political crisis. Want the central government to pay back Catalan high taxes. Highly concerned by the issue during droughts, less when the crisis is over. There is no information shared and they generally have no position about it. But want to have a solution for the water scarcity. Less concerned (apart from environmental groups) Benefit from tourism and industrial development of Catalonia
Spanish national government Needs to keep Spain overall sovereignty and prevent precedents. Justify national planning by solidarity. Is responsible in front of the EU if the River Basin plan is not validated Willing to have more infrastructure on the Ebro to allow more water for irrigation. Concerned by the public opposition raised against the deviation to Barcelona, and are likely to support alternative positions Responsible for environmental quality but more concerned by economic issues Priority is to irrigate the southern regions for agriculture. Open to negotiate and support solutions for the North-East of Catalonia and more water for the users in exchange of the Ebro Basin Plan to be accepted
Private companies (EBR, Ciudad Real) More economic interests than political ones Interested in investing in deviations from the Rhone River or the Ebro River Not concerned Interested in investing in deviations and other infrastructures for any users
Industrial and tourism sector More economic interests than political ones. The activity is actually reduced by the economic crisis, but wait for starting again Seat in the PHE committee to support their interests. Involved in water saving activities in the last years. Not concerned (eco-tourism is a micro sector compared to the “industrial tourism” Priority for current and future tourism and industry. Big users in terms of quantity and the water-consuming activities (swimming pool industry). They drive the economy.
European Union At stake with other self-determination dynamic in Europe and worried about it. According to polls, Catalans want more autonomy from Madrid, but not become a new State in Europe. Spain would remain the counterpart. The Ebro River Basin Plan should match the EU Directive in terms of balance between environment and other uses and participation of stakeholders Concerned by wetlands protection in Europe, as well as other environmental issues (quality standards) Concerned by economic development in Europe, and especially in Spain, facing a strong economic depression. European standards are set for uses and water saving policies in all sectors.

Issues and Stakeholders

Environmental issues in the delta region

NSPD: Water Quantity, Water Quality, Ecosystems
Stakeholder Types: Sovereign state/national/federal government, Supranational union, Environmental interest

Broadly, several groups have environmental interests in providing adequate flow and water quality to the delta region. However, the nature and importance of these interests varies.

Protection of the Delta, its wetlands, provision of adequate water and nutrients for traditional rice farming, and broad water quality for environmental needs are included in this issue.

Stakeholders include: Barcelona and the Catalan Government, Plataforma en defensa del Ebro And Delta communities

Farmers involved in intensive agriculture (limited to rice concerns), Spanish national government, European Union, and Environmental interest groups within the citizens of Catalan.

Regional and national sovereignty

NSPD: Governance, Values and Norms
Stakeholder Types: Sovereign state/national/federal government, Local Government, Non-legislative governmental agency, Community or organized citizens

Autonomy and competition are themes within this issue.

Barcelona and the Catalan Government seek more autonomy in water management. Aragon and Navarre Autonomies (upstream major provinces of the Ebro basin) and other neighboring autonomous communities have some competition with Catalonia. Other Autonomies are beneficiaries of the national policy which supports water transfer to the South. They also think that solidarity should prevent to the poorest regions. Their priority is to defend the Ebro Delta environment. Therefore they are likely to oppose the decisions made from Madrid and from Barcelona, if they oppose their interest. Plataforma en defensa del Ebro and Delta communities would rather support local policies and are connected to the Green Party in Barcelona (independent). Catalan urban citizens mainly support self-determination of Catalonia, especially from the last 4 years with the economic and political crisis. The Spanish national government need to keep Spain overall sovereignty and prevent precedents. Justify national planning by solidarity. Is responsible in front of the EU if the River Basin plan is not validated.

Competition between urban, energy, agriculture, tourism and industry needs

NSPD: Water Quality, Assets, Values and Norms
Stakeholder Types: Sovereign state/national/federal government, Local Government, Supranational union, Environmental interest, Industry/Corporate Interest, Community or organized citizens

Water management, allocation and infrastructure

NSPD: Water Quantity, Water Quality, Governance, Assets, Values and Norms
Stakeholder Types: Sovereign state/national/federal government, Local Government, Supranational union, Environmental interest, Industry/Corporate Interest, Community or organized citizens

the 2007-2008 drought: when competition about water and governance mix up

NSPD: Water Quantity, Ecosystems, Governance
Stakeholder Types: Federated state/territorial/provincial government, Sovereign state/national/federal government, Local Government, Environmental interest, Industry/Corporate Interest, Community or organized citizens

Issues and Stakeholders dynamic are well introduced through the telling of the 2008 drought crisis.

Catalonia’s water reserves were already low in 2007 and a dry winter added to the usual needs for irrigation and the anticipation of the touristic season of the summer 2008 made the regional Government ring the alarm early in 2008, as Barcelona would be soon facing a lack of water. Several options are identified such as the deviation from the Ebro delta, which automatically receives strong oppositions from the upstream and downstream stakeholders, as well as ecologists.

The project is however confirmed to be funded by the Spanish Government and the Catalan Government. A ‘politico-hydrographical’ conflict starts, which prevents any alternative short and long term solutions to be seriously taken into account[4]. Here are the different options on the table: Canals and pipelines - Redirecting from the Ebro (62 km of pipes and 180 million euros), accepted by the governments from Madrid and Catalonia, then cancelled when the drought ended by Madrid and continued by Barcelona (to some extent)

- Redirecting from the Rhone (1300 million euros under the Mediterranean sea or 800 million euros along the coast, using energy supplied by wind turbine). Buried for cost-benefit reasons and ecological reasons[5]


Analysis, Synthesis, and Insight

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ASI:Applying the Water Diplomacy Framework

The Case of water management of the Ebro River Basin resources in Catalonia demonstrates the limit of a top-down process, as well as the limit of public consultation as a process. If stakeholders are consulted only, nothing says that they will be heard, and it does not mean that they will finally agree with the decision made. This is the main difference between consultation and consensus building, when the parties are ultimately bond by their position during the process. It does not mean that they are all happy with the final decision, but that being part of the negotiation and having been involved in trades, problem solving and joint analyzis, they understand the rationale behind the decision. They are “part” of the decision process.

Having a real consensus building approach is even more relevant when the political context is as present and freezing as in Catalonia today. Decisions are mainly made upon political considerations, as water is included in an overall game between the Central government and the Autonomous Community. Water becomes a pretext for disagreement rather than a problem to solve. It would be therefore useful to include the stakeholders in a regional consensus building process, allowing the political interests to be represented together with technical, legal, economic and environmental frames at the same table. This negotiation process would allow to build a consensus around water rights, environmental risks, self-determination expression and national solidarity through packages and technical as well as institutional innovation. In addition, different parties expressing their interests at the same time could lead to coalitions between specific interests, rather than polarization of positions through the media. Confidentiality could be a rule for such an instance of negotiation.

Finally, it will be interesting to see the position of the EU in a few weeks, as it may rise some further questions: how should the regulator react if a process that corresponds to the Directive theoretically (as the PHE elaboration process may well do), does not bring the expected outcomes as a result (PDE estimates that the environmental standard was not respected and that their position was not heard). Should the regulation (the Directive) be stricter? Should the EU support the capacity building of the organizations that are less heard so that they take ownership on their national process? Or should the EU support the existing PHE, for it is an actual improvement of water management in the Ebro compared to past policies? Giving time for opposing stakeholders to build more power for the next period, and hoping that the Delta ecology and other interests are not irremediably affected in the meantime?(read the full article... )

Contributed by: Aline Brachet (last edit: 11 July 2014)




Key Questions

Transboundary Water Issues: What considerations can be given to incorporating collaborative adaptive management (CAM)? What efforts have the parties made to review and adjust a solution or decision over time in light of changing conditions?

The Ebro faces huge seasonal and annual variations leaving hydroelectricity, agriculture and aquaculture and domestic users with a high degree of uncertainty. However, users all have capacity and knowledge to collect data and share data as well as specific needs at the different periods of the year. A CAM process gathering central and Catalan government, basin agency and stakeholders could add on the existing attention given in the PHE, which estimates ranges of quantities.



Tagged with: water allocation self-determination environmental flow

  1. ^ A la une. (n.d.). Office International de l'Eau. Retrieved April 1, 2014, from http://www.oieau.fr/international/pays/2004/Espagne.pdf
  2. ^ PHEbro 2015-2021. (n.d.). Portal de CHEbro. Retrieved April 30, 2014, from http://www.chebro.es/
  3. ^ Canete, dispuesto a negociar mas caudal ecologico para el delta del Ebro. (2014, March 2). LA VANGUARDIA. Retrieved April 20, 2014, from http://www.lavanguardia.com/natural/20140302/54401959542/canete-caudal-ecologico-delta-ebro.html
  4. ^ Nicol, J. (2009). Catalogne : la guéguerre de l’eau. Courrier de l'environnement de l'INRA, n° 57, 133-142.
  5. ^ Gestion de l'eau en Espagne : les canaux de la discorde. (n.d.). PDE in English