Social agreement for water in defense of our rivers and for public water

March, 22, 2018

A wide range of (Spanish) civil society organizations and entities agree that we are facing a really decisive moment to recover and maintain the good state of conservation of our aquatic ecosystems, not only to comply with the Water Framework Directive and other commitments. Europeans in this area, but to adapt to the reality imposed by climate change, reduce our vulnerability to the growing risks of drought and floods and ensure sustainable use of water, with demands adapted to the resources actually available. On the other hand, we face privatization pressures, both in terms of the commodification of water rights and the privatization of water and sanitation services and even irrigation management.

The unsustainable growth of water demands, both in irrigation and urban-industrial uses, is currently one of the main problems to achieve a sustainable use of water and the good ecological status of our ecosystems.

The final result of this enormous increase in demands is the creation of scarcity problems, mainly due to mismanagement, excess of consumptive uses, generation of expectations and business prospects through the markets of waters Faced with this built shortage, unsuccessful supply strategies have been applied, basically reservoirs and transfers. Spain is the fifth country in the world with the largest number of large dams, more than 1,200 and the first in the world in number of dams per inhabitant and square kilometer. Despite this, these supply strategies still do not solve the problem. The new reservoirs have a decreasing utility and cause important environmental, cultural, patrimonial and social impacts. In addition, reservoirs and transfers encourage the increase in demands, so that far from solving the water deficit, they often aggravate it. To this must be added the progressive inputs corresponding to fertilizers, pesticides and other types of treatments that impoverish the biota of the soil and contribute to the increase of water pollution, either by runoff or by filtration. Supply policies are also used to avoid solving pollution problems in aquifers or rivers. It is usual to raise new infrastructures in the face of pollution problems instead of trying to solve those problems.

The supply strategies, based on reservoirs and transfers, as well as the excess of water demands, both in irrigation and with the expansion of urban centers, and diffuse or specific pollution, are causing a serious deterioration of ecosystems. This deterioration is reflected in a drastic reduction of circulating flows and the massive overexploitation of groundwater, largely responsible for the poor ecological status of many of our rivers, aquifers, transitional waters and wetlands. Despite the commitments assumed by Spain to comply with the requirements of the Water Framework Directive, the current hydrological plans recognize that 43% of the rivers, wetlands and estuaries are still in poor condition, and that 44% of the aquifers do not reach good condition.

The announced National Pact for Water, based on proposing on the one hand new irrigation, reservoirs and transfers and, predictably, on the other hand encouraging the marketing of water and the privatization of urban and agricultural services, does not solve the problems mentioned nor does it have account the effects of climate change, as well as the obligation to comply with European regulations recovering and maintaining the good condition of our rivers, aquifers and other aquatic ecosystems. In addition, the National Pact for Water is being developed without a genuine and sincere participation of civil society, with which it only counts for informative and non-participatory, with decisions previously taken or planned to be taken without its help.

On the other hand, as a consequence of the crisis of the municipal economies, some municipalities have resorted to concessioning water services to obtain resources through the so-called concessionary canon, increasing in recent years the percentage of populations with private management of these services. However, experience is showing that privatization, in a context of opacity, lack of accountability and frequent corruption, leads to an increase in the price of water without this translating into an improvement of the service or an adequate investment in the renewal of infrastructures, the increase of environmental impacts, the loss of access to water for socio-economic reasons and the disappearance of participation in decision-making by citizens.

To all the above we add that climate change imposes a future in which the available water will be drastically reduced, and in which the cycles of drought and major storms, with the corresponding floods, will be increasingly frequent and intense, affecting in one way or another all the basins. Given these perspectives, a great social agreement based on the recovery of our rivers, wetlands, lakes and aquifers, as a public environmental patrimony that should be in the service of the general interest, and on the other hand, in the defense, is urgent. of water as a public good, which must be universally accessible in relation to water supply and sanitation services, insofar as it is a human right, recognized as such by the United Nations.

In this context, it is urgent:

  1. Stop the construction of new reservoirs and transfers, including those foreseen in the hydrological plans 2015-2021, as well as review all existing transfers. This will allow planning the use and development of each territory in a more sustainable manner and according to the available resources and their characteristics, eliminating unsustainable expectations in the light of climate change and inter-territorial injustices.
  2. Stop the growth of demands, so that they adapt to the reduction of available flows imposed by climate change underway, both in expansive urban consumption and irrigation demands, redimensioning the irrigated area and expansive urban demands. In short, it is a question of moving from supply strategies to the new approaches to demand management promoted by the EU, the only ones capable of really solving the problems of scarcity and achieving a sustainable use of water and adapted to climate change.
  3. Stop the processes of deterioration, appropriation and overexploitation of rivers and aquifers, in order to guarantee their sustainability and the good ecological status of the waters, in the service of the general interest, respecting an adequate regime of environmental flows and other requirements of the Directive Marco del Agua, recovering the aquifers as our main strategic reserves in drought and ending the mismanagement of groundwater that involves the existence of hundreds of thousands of illegal wells. In this line, and taking into account the expected recession of flows with climate change, it is necessary to review the concession system in light of the resources actually existing and planned, in order to guarantee the water needs of aquatic ecosystems. Likewise, water quality must be guaranteed in the face of urban and agricultural pollution (nitrates, phosphates and pesticides), thus reducing the need for new catchments and supply infrastructures derived from quality problems.
  4. The Human Right to Water and Sanitation must be incorporated into the regulations at the highest possible level, through an adequate regulation that guarantees the level of priority that corresponds to it and ensures that it is implemented. It is necessary to reverse the processes of commodification of water and privatization of our water supply and sanitation services, in order to recover them as services of general interest, under a transparent and participative public management. Among other measures, it is necessary to end the concessionary fees and repeal the "Law 27/2013, of December 27, rationalization and sustainability of the Local Administration", in defense of municipal autonomy and in favor of public water, as well as to reverse the growing process of commodification of irrigation water, privatization of irrigation management and the hoarding of water and land that break any perspective of social equity.
  5. It is essential to end corruption around water, which grows by transforming water and water supply and sanitation services into large private businesses. For this, it is necessary to promote institutional changes for full transparency in water management, including access to real and up-to-date consumption data, as well as effective citizen participation in a framework of deliberative democracy.

The pdf file with the list of the entities of civil society that sign the Social Agreement for Water in Defense of Our Rivers and for Public Water