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Work is going on to replace obsolete parts at the Marbella plant. SUR
Half the western Costa's water now comes from the sea: Marbella's desalination plant gets upgraded
Drought crisis

Half the western Costa's water now comes from the sea: Marbella's desalination plant gets upgraded

The Junta is starting to upgrade parts to allow annual production of 12 cubic hectometres, extending to another eight after the summer

Chus Heredia

Friday, 19 January 2024, 10:24

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It was a facility built in the time of former Marbella mayor Jesús Gil - with his stamp all over it. There were faults in the construction, convictions for misappropriation of funds, a non-payment of 22 million euros to the contractor, political controversy and the plant did not enter service for eight years after its completion. It ended up being sold to the Spanish government. But now, the authorities, led by the Andalusian ministry of agriculture, are closing ranks because of the serious drought situation. And they have turned this facility into their most powerful weapon in the battle to obtain extra water supplies in these times of need. In fact, the Marbella seawater desalination plant already supplies half of the water that the western Costa del Sol 'drinks'.

It is thanks to this 50 per cent that the western Costa can fulfil the regional government's requirement to reduce demand by 20 per cent throughout Andalucía.

It could be said that the sea has become the main 'reservoir' serving the 11 municipalities that make up the western Costa del Sol district, from Torremolinos to Manilva. The district's Mancomunidad public services water company, Acosol, currently has the desalination plant operating at its maximum capacity, producing six cubic hectometres per year.

First step, spring: increase to 12 cubic hectometres

The current maximum output is half of that envisaged in the original design of the plant whose components are now also obsolete. Last week work began to change filtration membranes and other filtration and desalination components. In the spring, the desalination plant will be able to produce 12 cubic hectometres per year after an investment of three million euros from the regional government. Acosol sources have said that this replacement of components will be carried out gradually in order to minimise the impact on the service.

Second step: increase to 20 hectometres after summer

The next step forward will come from the Junta's Sequía Plus drought plan. This will mean adding another eight cubic hectometres to the annual capacity from the summer onwards, which will mean that the plant will end the year with three times the capacity it started with. This is extremely valuable water at a time when there are already 14 municipalities in the province with water cuts, with the recent addition of Fuengirola to the list. More than 250,000 Malaga residents are affected.

The figures

6+6+8 The three phases the Marbella seawater desalination plant will go through this year

Now it produces six cubic hectometres a year. In the spring another six will be possible and the total will rise to 12 thanks to the replacement of components. After the summer the capacity will increase by another eight using a portable extension or two extra production lines.

So how will it be expanded to 20 hectometres? Technical sources explained that there are two options on the table: either to attach a portable desalination plant to produce the extra eight hectometres or to add two fixed production lines. In both cases the result is the same. The Marbella plant is 2.5 kilometres from the sea and takes its water from the Mediterranean at the mouth of the Río Verde. It is located on the Istán road.

An important factor is the effect of the works that have already begun on the Rojas pumping station in Churriana, Malaga.This will make it possible in a few months' time to direct a flow of up to 500 litres per second in all directions as required. This means that water from the desalination plant can 'travel' to Malaga city, the Guadalhorce or the Axarquía, in the same way that the Costa can be supplied from any of those areas. The Axarquía is already well aware of the benefits of these 'water highways', as it has been receiving 300 litres per second from Malaga for months. In previous droughts, it was the other way round and Malaga benefited from this type of connection.

More desalination works

The Marbella plant is not the only desalination resource that is being activated to cope with the harsh drought. In recent months, regional investments have served to increase the produc tion capacity of the El Atabal desalination plant, which treats brackish waters from reservoirs and wells, by 10 per cent.

Many of Malaga's subsoil resources are highly salinised, either naturally or because a considerable depth has been reached in their exploitation. In order to desalinate these valuable reserves, the Junta is preparing to install small portable desalination machines. This involves work on two boreholes in the Guadalmansa area in Estepona, which will add up to four cubic hectometres. Another four cubic hectometres are to be taken from a borehole in Fuengirola and four more in El Trapiche (Axarquía).

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