The water management situation in the region of Catalonia, Spain is catastrophic. The omnipresence of the private water sector is creating hugely negative impacts at the economic, social and environmental levels. As a result, Catalan municipalities are being swept by the wave of water remunicipalisation that is taking place across the globe, and the drive to recover public management of water systems is gaining force.
The Catalan quasi-monopoly in water
The privatisation of water services today affects roughly 84% of the population of Catalonia, through either mixed corporations or fully private companies. This situation is quite unique given that, to the contrary, the great majority of water systems are under public control globally. Furthermore, the region’s water management landscape has two distinctive characteristics.
First, private companies are concentrated in medium-sized and large population centres. Although more than half of Catalan municipalities have public water services (507 compared to 437 where these services are privatised), they only represent 16% of the population. We are therefore talking about small municipalities, where it is hard to benefit from economies of scale and where the return on investments is lower than in the bigger cities where private companies can expect to make profits.
Second, a handful of companies share the water market. For example, 90% of municipalities with private water management are served by companies from the Aigües de Barcelona group that operates in 24 countries – also known as AGBAR and a subsidiary of the French water multinational Suez. Under the AGBAR umbrella we find companies such as the Societat General d’Aigües de Barcelona (SGAB), SOREA, CASSA, Aigües de Catalunya, Mina Pública de Terrassa, Aigües de Girona, Aigües de Tarragona and many more. It is worth noting that AGBAR has managed water in the city of Barcelona since 1867, with the latest change taking place in 2012 when a mixed company was created, under 85% private and 15% public control.
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