Water cycle

Quality, universal access and guarantee of supply


Water is a scarce and valued resource that demands a careful management to ensure its quality, universal access and sustainability of supply.

These objectives require, especially in densely populated areas, a comprehensive conception of water cycle with the distinction between different uses (watering, industrial uses, drinking water, etc.) and which incorporates a global perspective of the collection, disposal, treatment and uses of water. Thus, in 2013, with the aim of enhancing the management of water cycle and to continue improving the service, the joint company Aigües de Barcelona, Empresa Metropolitana de Gestió del Cicle Integral de l'Aigua, was established.

In recent years, the territory and users who receive services from the new metropolitan administration has expanded, incorporating the municipalities of Cervelló, Corbera de Llobregat and La Palma de Cervelló. At the same time, in 2013, the Regulations of the metropolitan service of the comprehensive water cycle were approved, collecting in a single document issues relating to water supply and the upstream network of the sanitation system, to non-drinking water supply, to rules applicable in exceptional situations or in conditions of drought, and to the efficiency measures or water saving.

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Regulations for integrated water cycle metropolitan service
water supply management
Metropolitan water supply management needs a strong infrastructure provision
Metropolitan supply sources of drinking water are mainly surface and groundwater, and to a lesser extent, water comes also from the El Prat desalination plant.

The last major drought and the citizens' awareness about the lack of water resources has made domestic consumption follow the same recent years downward trend and it now touches values close to 102 litres per person and day.

The AMB has intensified measures to ensure that supply companies give a proper water distribution service to users and carry out actions on the network to promote their good performance, which is higher than 80%. Actions of maintenance, replacement of damaged pipes, leak-detector equipment and a more automated control over the network are some of the factors involved in this performance improvement.

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Water supply in the metropolitan area of Barcelona
  • Waterloss project
    The AMB has participated in the Waterloss project (European MED programme), whose objective was to research and define new proposals aimed at reducing water leaks in the supply network of cities and thus contributing to the improvement of the performance and the service provided to citizens.

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  • Social and ecological fares
    In 2013, to protect the most vulnerable users, the AMB approved social and ecological fares for drinking water supply, so that the price for water consumption is proportional to the economic and social conditions of users. In addition, in 2014 these rates have been complemented by the adoption of a protocol to prevent cuts to all citizens who cannot pay the water bill.

    With these actions, together with the budget authorised by town councils and companies and aimed to assist people in social exclusion situations, the AMB has developed a policy of social cohesion that seeks to reduce the impact of the crisis in the access to this staple good. Thanks to these measures, the number of beneficiaries has significantly increased.

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    Bonus in water bill for social and ecological reasons
    Metropolitan programme of measures against energy poverty
Sanitation is a key element to ensure environmental quality of metropolitan rivers and coastal areas and is also essential to ensure a more efficient water management.

The upstream network of the sanitation system is basically composed of large sewer pipes, treatment plants and underwater sewage pipes. From the 1st of August 2013, EMSSA, a directly managed public company, ceased doing the operation and maintenance of this main sanitation network, and its former functions are currently managed by the metropolitan joint company Aigües de Barcelona, Empresa Metropolitana de Gestió del Cicle Integral de l'Aigua. The change has meant an intensification of the control of the technical and economic operation of metropolitan sanitation infrastructures.

Wastewater treatment plant
Wastewater treatment plant (EDAR) in Montcada i Reixac

The AMB has continued coordinating actions related to pollution control, both with metropolitan town councils and the Catalan Water Agency (ACA).

The most important actions of this mandate are:
  • Incorporation of sewage pipes in Cervelló, Corbera de Llobregat and La Palma de Cervelló to the metropolitan sanitation management (2012).
  • Energy efficiency programs in the EDARs (wastewater treatment plants) of Gavà, Montcada, Besòs and Sant Feliu (2013).
  • Reduction of nutrients in the EDARs (wastewater treatment plants) of Gavà and Sant Feliu (2013).
  • Implementation of the phosphorus removal at the EDAR (wastewater treatment plant) of Montcada, since July 2014.
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  • Inspection and environmental control
    To ensure a proper operation of the wastewater treatment plants it is necessary to control wastewater discharges from industries located in the metropolitan area.

    To carry out this control, since 2011, and coinciding with the implementation of ISO 9001, a centralised management system of pollution has been implemented, through the integration of processes (inspections, sewerage network and pollution episodes) and the continuous monitoring of the quality of wastewater (quality stations).

    For this continuous control, the AMB has three quality stations with a high-level of effectiveness: they operate 24 hours a day and are equipped with conductivity sensors and automatic refrigerated sensors. There are two stations in Sant Feliu system, fully consolidated from 2011; the third one is located at the El Prat de Llobregat system and started running in 2014. The latter is mobile and can change its location depending on the quality of wastewater passing through each sewage pipe in a specific time.

    Inspections and annual controls at the upstream network of the sanitation system
    Sanitation network samples  450
    Industry samples  545
    Industry inspections  900
    Incidents and alarms   20
Three of the seven metropolitan wastewater treatment plants have a subsequent regeneration treatment that allows the reuse of treated water. Overall, about 3% of treated water is reused nowadays, and it is primarily intended to environmental uses and to wetlands maintenance.

The management of water cycle is a guarantee of the future development of this water for non-potable uses and it will represent an increase in the percentage of regenerated and reused water.

In the metropolitan area of Barcelona, about 3 hm3/year of groundwater are used for watering parks and gardens, and for street cleaning. With the current management, these waters will be more resourceful.

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Reuse of treated water
Actions related to flood prevention within the metropolitan territory are part of the Rainwater master plan. Among other actions, the plan includes the construction of sewage pipes, lamination ponds and storage tanks that, altogether, make possible the management of episodes of heavy rain.

During this period, works specified in the Master Plan have kept running, such as the operation and maintenance of the lamination pond of Sant Llorenç, located in the municipalities of Viladecans, Gavà and Sant Climent de Llobregat, as well as the rainwater storage tank of L'Estrella, in the municipality of Badalona.

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Rainwater Master Plan (cat)
Working at the AMB laboratory
Working at the AMB laboratory in analysing environmental samples
The laboratory, which provides technical support to the AMB in everything related to the analysis of environmental samples, has the recognition of ENAC (National Accreditation Body) in the areas of wastewater, continental and regenerated waters, and those resulting from natural leachates, as well as in the area of sample analysis of air pollutants. In addition, the commitment to promote a model of sustainable environmental management is also regularly audited in accordance with the EMAS (Eco-Management and Audit Scheme).

Historically, the samples analysed at the laboratory came mainly from the control of the sanitation system, from the inspections of industrial discharges or the environmental monitoring of landfills and from waste treatment plants. In recent years, however, quality control campaigns of the of children's sandboxes from metropolitan parks have increased together with the analyses of groundwater for the watering of these parks.

With the aim of promoting the reuse of regenerated wastewater, the AMB laboratory is a partner in a new LIFE+ project, funded by the European Union and coordinated by CETaqua. This project, started in 2013 and lasting three years, assesses the ability of various technically advanced methods of treatment (osmosis membranes, nanostructured carbon filters, ultrafiltration) to obtain a quality water that meets the requirements to be resourceful in various industrial uses.

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AMB laboratory
ENSAT project