Spain must prioritize the replacement of its water infrastructure to prevent the current supply network from becoming obsolete. Seopan, the employers’ association for construction companies, has criticized the fact that public investment in transport, purification or water supply is at levels 50% lower than those invested in 2010. Specifically, the differences in public spending between 2021 and 2010 rose to more than 130,000 million euros, carrying out the majority of the transport networks.
According to the calculations of the entity, which brings together the large construction companies and concessionaires in the country, almost half of the supply and sewerage pipes are over 30 and 40 years old, respectively. To this is added that 26% of the supply is not registered and 16% of the water is lost along the way. This situation is also noticeable in the consumer’s final invoice, which shows the greatest variation in rates in the European Union depending on where it is paid.
All this is happening while public investment in infrastructure continues to grow, both due to the boost of the Spanish economy and to European funds. Until September 2022, the levels of public spending linked to new infrastructure grew by 5.1% year-on-year. But if there is an area where it is not observed, it is in relation to water: between 2014 and 2020, Spain barely executed half of the budget commitments set with Brussels, a total of 27,655 million as of January 30, 2023.
To comply with Brussels, 253,000 million are needed
From Seopan they also regret the “absence” of national plans to modernize infrastructures despite the fact that the European Union has on the table several proposals for Water Directives, such as the treatment of urban wastewater, which would increase the need for investment to 253,000 million of euros. For this reason, they opted for the “binomial” that conforms water and energy, which would generate “great investor potential” at the risk of the different current plans.
Among their demands, they advocate having the usual contributions from the EU to Spain and allocate 9,904 million euros to the development of water, waste and renewable infrastructures, to which another 4,254 million would be added in other types of aid. These funds should be used, according to the entity, to comply with the Wastewater Treatment Directive proposed by Brussels, which will establish much more demanding requirements on tertiary and quaternary treatments, those that allow the water to be cleaned of specific contaminants.
Seopan also criticizes that the PERTEs do not include the development of new hydraulic infrastructures, beyond the 2,790 million set for digitalization of the water cycles in one of the twelve government plans. Consider that public investment in water could mobilize more than 10,000 million: 7,724 million for the third cycle until 2027, and an additional 3,000 million for sewage networks and treatment plants in towns with less than 50,000 inhabitants. Currently, Spain has 1,640 drinking water treatment stations (ETAP) and 2,232 wastewater treatment plants where more than 50,000 workers work.
To all this we must add the problem of inflation. According to the association, many of the contracts signed for the maintenance and conservation of the integral water cycle “make their execution impossible” due to increases in the price of energy and labor costs, which in the case of the water cycle mean 31% of the final cost. “The Government has not only rejected the revision proposals submitted by the sector, but has also raised the unconstitutionality of the proposals of the autonomous communities,” they lament.