Private investors show interest in building Axarquía desalination plant

It is one solution to the drought crisis that has been in the pipeline for more than two decades, but it could take another five years to build

Eugenio Cabezas
EUGENIO CABEZAS

A number of private investors are pushing the idea of a desalination plant for the Axarquía, which is a solution to the drought crisis that has been in the pipeline for more than two decades.

However, no action has ever been taken either with the public administrations or private companies until now. With La Viñuela reservoir, which supplies 180,000 people and up until 1 October this year, some 6,300 hectares of subtropical crops and greenhouses (irrigation was suspended at the beginning of the month, with growers only having access to groundwater and regenerated water), below 10% of its capacity, the construction of a desalination plant has once again gained momentum in the private sector; there are at least three operators interested in the project. Meanwhile, the public sector is looking into European Next Generation funds to fund the initiative.

The first step was taken by the multinational company Acciona, which last July formally showed interest in building a plant at the mouth of the Vélez river and would have a capacity to produce 25 cubic hectometres (Hm3) per year for domestic supply and irrigation.

The Andalusian regional government responded to this request and gave Acciona three months to present all the technical documentation for the project, but also put out a call for other interested parties to come forward with their proposals. At least two other private companies have come forward so far and the deadline for applications is 27 October.

The main problem in the viability of a desalination plant would be the cost of the water, as the energy cost of desalination would have to be added to the cost of pumping the water into the more mountainous areas of the Axarquía for irrigation and domestic supply.

Alternatives

Regardless of who is awarded the project, it is estimated that the new infrastructure will not be ready before five years, so the Axarquía’s town halls are already looking into the creation of new wells and even installing portable desalination plants, similar to those used on the Canary island of La Palma to irrigate the crops that were isolated by the lava from the volcano that erupted in 2021.

The Junta has indicated that it is studying various alternatives to obtain new resources for agriculture and domestic supply, such as groundwater. The delegate for Agriculture, Fernando Fernández, said that they are analysing the requests from the irrigation communities and the town halls. Spain’s central government said in February that it was open to studying the option of a desalination plant in the Axarquía, but asked the Junta for "rigorous studies".