The Junta de Andalucía has put on the table, as a measure of last resort against the severe drought, the possibility of water transfer by ship. It is not easy or cheap. There is still a long way to go, but meetings with water operators are going apace. The city's water company Emasa has taken the initiative and is preparing final checks for the large pipeline which was built for the drought of 1995 that will be used to transfer water from Malaga port into the supply network.
Contacts are currently being made with shipping and water companies, which need to find ways of connecting two normally unrelated worlds: water supply and port operations. How long could a ship be docked to pump out water? How can they extend the pipeline? What is the capacity and how far in advance will the ships have to be contracted?
Sources close to the operation have confirmed to SUR that Emasa is active on this front to send the water to three key zones. The first is La Rosaleda from where this pumping station will power the water to the Axarquía’s Viñuela system and also to the Limonero reservoir, if necessary. The second is the Atabal desalination plant, where all the water in Malaga is treated and whose capacity has been expanded by 10%. The third, is the Rojas pumping station, in Churriana, which is currently being expanded to increase the exchange of a 500-litre-per-second, two-way flow, between the Costa del Sol and Malaga city.
The key operation would be in the Port of Malaga.
The ships would unload their water at Muelle 9, the container quay.
The current connection, built in 1995, is located on Muelle 8 (now the fishing quay) and there is no connection with Muelle 9.
Building a pipeline to link the ships and the existing connection has been proposed.
From there, the pipeline connects with the municipal mains water supply.
...and with the Viñuela transfer network to reach the rest of the towns on the Costa del Sol.
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At the port, the pipeline has an outlet at Muelle 8, the fishing quay, and would need to go through Muelle 9, where the discharge would take place. The pipeline leaves the port by the iron bridge over the Guadalmedina. An extension pipe to connect with the ships has yet to be finalised.
To put the pipeline into service, it needs firstly to be extended about 100 metres to the nearby Muelle 9 (the container quay), where the ships, loaded with up to 100,000 cubic metres of untreated water (an expensive option that would also tie up port traffic) or 40,000 cubic metres of treated water, would have space to dock. Emasa is focusing on dealing with treated water, which could be pumped directly into the mains network.
Initial calculations point to a capacity to pump up to 2,000 cubic metres per hour. In the case of the tankers with 40,000 cubic metres it would take around 20 hours to unload. In the case of the tankers carrying 100,000 cubic metres of untreated water, they could pump out 6,000 cubic metres an hour but the infrastructure in the port would not be strong enough to deal with that rate. The port costs would shoot up due to the number of hours required and this could interfere with normal port traffic.
The water could be sourced from Cartagena, Murcia, (72,000 cubic metres a day produced by its desalination plant) or Sagunto, Valencia, (22,900). Carboneras (Almeria) has been studied by the sector and the Junta is considering using this port, along with Malaga and Almeria as strategic points for receiving the water. In all these ports, production plants are not far away. Huelva and Marseille have also been analysed. in the case of the latter, as the water would be from a river, if the shipment is left too later, there could be problems with a proliferation of biological species.
Everything is pending the Junta devising a distribution map of the works. Companies such as Acosol (the water company serving the western Costa del Sol) have already made a significant provision of funds for this emergency situation that will be combined with measures such as expanding the Marbella desalination plant by eight hectometres and installing portable desalination plants in brackish wells (Trapiche, Guadalmansa and Fuengirola), as well as the re-use of aquifers in the lower Guadalhorce valley.
The water from the ships would also be distributed to other areas of the coastline.
The Viñuela transfer network would divide initially as it leaves the port.
A secondary network would take the supply to Rincón de la Victoria and the rest of the municipalities in the Axarquía.
The mains pipeline would continue as far as the Rosaleda pumping station.
It would continue as far as the connection with the Viñuela-Bores Romero transfer networks.
And, from there, to the Rojas pumping station...
to allow the supply to the rest of the towns on the Costa del Sol.
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The supply to the Axarquía and the Costa del Sol must also be analysed in depth as there are no adapted port facilities in those districts and it will be necessary to see if a connection from Malaga port or other options are chosen. One other problem is that the state of the mains network is not optimal.
Some propose starting the procedure now, before it is essential, using tanks and reservoirs to keep the reserves. That would allow the costs, both of the water and the logistics, to be dealt with in stages. If the project is left until the last minute, the costs would multiply and the availability of ships would be smaller. And all this is without taking into account new factors, such as fuel prices, conflicts, crises...