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Ernesto Sánchez, Matilde Mancha, Chus Heredia, Andrés Naranjo and Javier Hernández. Salvador Salas
Acosol proposes 300m-euro project to double the 'water highway' capacity between Campo de Gibraltar, Costa del Sol and Malaga city
SUR water crisis forum

Acosol proposes 300m-euro project to double the 'water highway' capacity between Campo de Gibraltar, Costa del Sol and Malaga city

SUR's water crisis forum heard how water treatment companies are committed to more digitalisation, while the Aehcos hoteliers' associaton argued that water consumption in the tourism sector is "much lower than the value it generates"

Nuria Triguero

Malaga

Friday, 19 April 2024, 11:54

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The Easter rains have brought a calming vibe to the public debate on the ongoing drought. Matilde Mancha, CEO of Acosol, the company that supplies water to the 11 towns along the Western Costa del Sol, has "good feelings" and is confident that in September, when the hydrological year ends, the state of the reservoirs will be better than in 2023. "We are more relaxed, but we cannot speak of normality; we will continue to have limitations on water use," she stated. The rains fixed what was urgent, but not what is truly important - that is, the "transformation" of the water supply and management model that the Costa del Sol must face over the next twenty years. The construction of a new desalination plant, progress in the use of waste water and the improvement of pipelines and link-ups in different supply sources feature markedly in the roadmap drawn up by Matilde Mancha in her speech at SUR's water crisis forum, 'Malaga, how to face the drought'.

In this regard, there is an initiative that, due to its importance and its budget, is attracting lots of attention: according to Mancha, Acosol has proposed a project to Andalucía's regional government to undertake the long-awaited task of improving the pipelines along the Costa del Sol, thereby easing the exchange of the water-supply flow between the Campo de Gibraltar, Costa del Sol and Malaga city. These transfers will soon be easier now that the Rojas pumping station in Churriana is being built, which will allow 500 litres per second to be carried in both directions. The project proposal, valued at more than 300 million euros, consists of renovating the water channels and doubling them, especially in the most important connection areas. This would double the current capacity. This network is currently causing a lot of pipeline breakage problems in areas such as Benalmádena due to the age of said pipes.

How will the 300 million euros be financed? Funding would be provided from regional funds, by the Mancomunidad de Municipios de la Costa del Sol (the public institution managing key public services across the 11 towns along the Western Costa del Sol) and also with contributions from the local councils involved.

"Twenty years ago the Costa del Sol had 350,000 inhabitants; now officially it has 590,000, but we have carried out a study to find out what the real population is and it has indicated there are 800,000 inhabitants in low season and 1,300,000 in high season," Mancha explained. In terms of water consumption, this is equivalent to 90hm3 per year, of which between 40 and 50% comes from reservoir water and another 40% comes from wells, which are "the ones that have handled the growth in demand". Thus far the desalination plant has contributed 6hm3 (no more than 7%). And this combination of sources, she warned, "has to change" because the land "cannot take any more".

Desalination and recycling

The expansion of desalination capacity is the first step in this plan. "The work on the Marbella desalination plant is progressing at full speed and we are going to ensure that this plant provides 20% of the water consumed on the Costa del Sol," she said. By July the first phase of this expansion will be operational, according to Mancha. She warned us that "we will have to think about building another desalination plant on the Costa del Sol because the Marbella plant cannot be extended any further".

The other pillar for the future is recycled water, which is currently only used by golf courses. The main objective is that it can also be used for other types of irrigation. "The problem lies in the quality of that water, specifically in its level of salt content, which comes from what flows in from the pipes taking in sea water, increasing conductivity [how much electrical current conducts through water]. We are going to promote investments aimed at reducing this conductivity so that this water can be used to supply around 20 or 25% of the demand for irrigation," she explained. "If we were able to reduce the consumption of drinking water on the Costa del Sol by 20 to 25%, the shortage problems would disappear".

Acosol hopes that in the future 20% of the water consumed in the area, (currently 90 hectometres per year, but will increase to 120 with the expected increase in population), will come from reclaimed water. In addition, its CEO highlighted the importance of the extension of the Río Verde Drinking Water Treatment Plant (DWTP), whose preliminary project was drawn up by the Mancomunidad de Municipios and which now has to be put out to tender by the Junta, with a budget of 35 million euros to double the plant's capacity.

Nor has Mancha forgotten the other side of the water management coin: sanitation. And specifically of a crucial project for the Costa del Sol: that of renovating and burying the human waste collection points so that the sewage pipes no longer pass by the beaches. "It is a very ambitious project and the various administrations have to come to an agreement to push forward with it. We will have to sit down to see how to make this preliminary project a reality, which is already in the hands of the Junta", Mancha stated.

Acosol's director took part in a panel held at the forum entitled 'The use of water in cities', together with Javier Hernández (executive vice-president of Aehcos), Andrés Naranjo (director of the Malaga and Granada delegation of Aqualia), and Ernesto Sánchez (director of Business Development and Innovation for Hidralia). This panel was led by SUR journalist Chus Heredia.

Tourist use

Javier Hernández, for his part, defended the usefulness and efficiency of water consumption in the tourism sector. "According to the World Tourism Organisation, the sector only consumes 1% of the water available in the world. In some countries this rises to 7%. On the Costa del Sol, of the 90 cubic hectometres of consumption per year, the tourism sector consumes between 3 and 3.5%. In contrast, tourism employs almost 20% of the working age population. Therefore, consumption by the tourism sector is much lower than the value it generates," he argued.

The vice-president of Aehcos gave out a message "of calm" because "water for the Costa del Sol is guaranteed for this summer". He also flagged that "It is important that this message gets through because there are media outlets that are interested in sending tourists away from the Costa del Sol to other countries with misinformation".

In addition, and with regard to the possibility that it was planned that hotels would not be able to fill their swimming pools, Hernández reflected on the damage that such a measure would have caused. "Eighty per cent of the hotel sector's contracts are signed and sealed a year or even two years in advance with services that have been guaranteed and, if they are not provided, compensation must be paid. We are talking about 4,800 million euros of the 5,500 million euros invoiced by hotels on the Costa del Sol coming from these block-booking arrangements," he said. Employment would also have been affected.

Digital transformation

For their part, the representatives from Hidralia and Aqualia stressed the importance of going fully digital at all levels of water management to improve efficiency and avoid losses. "It is essential to use all the digital tools available and to change the way of working to achieve the objective we are looking for, which is that the efficiency of our water usage exceeds 95%. This can only be achieved by adding more sensors, digitising all data and applying remote reading," explained Ernesto Sánchez, citing the examples of Marbella, where remote metering is already a reality, and Estepona, where it will be a reality in three years' time. "There has to be a digitalisation of all processes in order to have absolute control and full knowledge of water use. We cannot allow water to not be properly controlled and for there to be areas where the yield is 60 or 70% and the rest is lost," said Andrés Naranjo.

Private companies have also expressed their commitment to waste water recycling. They also presented initiatives that combine innovation and sustainability, such as the pilot project at La Víbora waste water treatment plant (WWTP) in Marbella, which is testing the replenishing of aquifers with reclaimed water.

Finally, all the participants on the panel were in favour of public-private collaboration to make this change in the water supply model a reality.

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