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La gestión eficiente del agua, al auxilio del planeta y de los ecosistemas

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01/06/2021

Efficient water management, helping the planet and ecosystems

The United Nations Organisation has chosen World Environment Day to present the Decade on the restoration of ecosystems and a call for a global movement to recover the planet. In this context, ensuring suitable protection of the environment is a key factor in the preservation of biodiversity and ecosystems and requires the involvement of expert organisations committed to this objective. 

Water management companies show this commitment on a daily basis and, in this pandemic year, they have been able to provide the service with hardly any alterations whilst maintaining measures that enable them to protect the environment. Confident of having overcome the worst of the health crisis, the water sector must look to the future whilst keeping an eye on three goals: The renovation of obsolete infrastructures, the digitalisation of networks and water meters and energy efficiency as a driving force for employment, integration of sparsely populated territories, the circular economy, and green transition. 

Climate emergency and caring for the planet 
The management of the end-to-end water cycle now plays a leading role, together with the involvement of highly specialised companies that are developing initiatives for the mitigation of and adaptation to climate change.  Water stress is one of the great threats that Spain must face in the coming years to try to address the decrease in rainfall and its increasingly irregular distribution. We urgently need to anticipate the foreseeable climate crisis and the water crisis. For strategies and policies against climate change to succeed, water needs to be incorporated as a strategic vector, and as a priority axis of action. 

The activities of the end-to-end water cycle are an integral part of the natural environment and, therefore, caring for the environment is intrinsic in the day-to-day management of these services. Promoting a transition that is fair and reduces water and energy consumption, defining a strategy with lower emissions and getting involved in the retrieval and protection of ecosystems are inescapable obligations to continue guaranteeing the sustainability of the planet and contributing to meeting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

Faced with these important challenges that will affect the development of the next generations, Spain has the advantage of a solid framework for public-private collaboration. As the United Nations recognises in SDG 17, these goals "may only be achieved through strong global partnerships and cooperation." In this regard, our country has companies that are amongst the world leaders in water management and whose experience, teams and technical capabilities are placed at the service of citizens. The aim is to guarantee the future provision of the water services that we currently enjoy with the same level of excellence and based on triple sustainability: social, environmental and financial.

Along these lines we have the first long-term renewable energy purchase agreement (PPA), signed by Aqualia and a pioneering contribution to the water sector, to supply green energy, with a commitment to transition to more sustainable energy sources. 

For some years now, the company has also been working on reducing emissions in their activity. Aqualia was the first company in the water sector to register the Carbon Footprint (CF) for all its activity in Spain, in accordance with ISO 14064-1. This represents an added value for the municipalities in which it provides services, by undertaking activities with a minimal environmental impact and the maximum energy efficiency, creating safer and more controlled environments.

It is still a great challenge to become more sustainable in the long term, and Aqualia is putting it into practice on a daily basis with the management of more than five thousand installations (water treatment plants, desalination plants, tanks, pumps, treatment plants), with the aim of achieving maximum efficiency, 100% circularity for water, the creation of high-performance infrastructures and the implementation of technologies typically found in smart cities and applied to the water cycle. 

Another great challenge is to ensure that Wastewater Treatment Plants (WWTP) become true biofactories and actively contribute in the fight against the climate emergency. For this, Aqualia is developing lines of research aimed at the retrieval and transformation of organic matter to convert it into "bio" by-products that can have a new lease of life. In this regard, Aqualia's objective is to convert WWTPs into circular stations or biofactories capable of retrieving, transforming and valuing waste into usable resources, allocating them to agricultural uses or for energy recovery.

Another area where alliances have been successful is in the area of public-private collaboration, which is what has been under development for a number of years in Ibiza, where Aqualia, as the manager of the Municipal Water Service, has installed a new surveillance and remote control system for the drinking water distribution in operation. This technology monitors the interconnection between the three existing desalination plants on the island, and this has made it possible to optimise the operation and considerably increase the performance of the networks. The result: Breakdowns have been reduced by half and the efficiency of the networks has improved, thus helping to alleviate the water shortage.

Many of the projects promoted by Aqualia incorporate solutions that guarantee the treatment of wastewater in an efficient, safe and environmentally friendly way, contributing to the fight against climate change. Some of them are being developed in protected areas or areas of great value for biodiversity, for example, in the Medina del Campo treatment plant, in Valladolid. There, Aqualia has transformed the old lagoon system for filtering wastewater, launching a sustainable water purification and re-use project that is enabling the recovery of the ecosystem. Currently, in the lagoons there is an annual population of 8,600 birds and more than 120 species of ducks and birds related to the ecosystem have been counted. The project has served as an example and a benchmark for other WWTPs for the retrieval of pastures and wetlands. 

Another case is that of the Rufea wetlands, where Aqualia is collaborating with the Lleida Municipality in the ecological restoration and retrieval of the landscape in this natural area of ecological and social interest. It is an area with river lagoons and wet meadows linked to the dynamics of the river, which is now being recovered for the public and, especially, for naturalistic and educational uses.