Why is water so cheap in Spain?

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water in Spain

Water has always been a scarce resource in many places in Spain for part of the year. Yet the country’s water price is among the lowest in Europe. How is that possible? And shouldn’t that change? Because isn’t it ‘the cheaper the water, the lower the incentive to use it sparingly?

In Spain, water costs an average of €2.3 per cubic metre. That amount is considerably lower than in European countries that invest more in their water infrastructure. A recent study, carried out by the consultant Red2Red on behalf of Facsa, reveals a clear connection. Countries that charge more for water also invest more in optimising this scarce resource. Spain, which offers water relatively cheaply, is lagging in investments in improvements.

Large price differences per region and municipality

There are also large price differences for water between the different regions. This is evident from recent reports from the Spanish Consumers’ Association and the European Federation for Water Companies. The research showed that the price for an annual consumption of 175 m3 in a household of 4 people varied from €560 in Seville to €157 in Palencia.

In cities such as Segovia, Cádiz, Palma, Alicante, Barcelona and Murcia, water for Spain is relatively expensive with an annual bill varying from €411 to €552 . For a cubic metre of water, you pay an amount between €2.3 and €3.2. The water in those cities is more than twice as expensive as in San Sebastián, Ávila, Lugo and León, where a cubic metre of water costs about €1.10. In Guadalajara, Ourense and Palencia you even pay less than a euro for the same amount.

The political costs of water price increases

The Spanish government is afraid of the political costs that an increase in water prices would entail. This is what the financial section Invertia of El Español writes. However, European regulations require that the price covers all costs. This means that necessary investments in the network and new infrastructure are not made. After Malta and Belgium, Spain ranks third in Europe in terms of water stress.

Low water price, low investments

The Spanish water price of an average of €2.3 per cubic metre is in stark contrast to countries such as Denmark. There the price rises to €9.3 per cubic metre. Furthermore, Denmark is also investing significantly more in their water infrastructure. The low price in Spain does not easily encourage consumers and companies to use water sparingly. In addition, there is low efficiency in water management.

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Need for action

The study emphasises the urgency of investments in water infrastructure. Existing facilities also need to be renovated to increase efficiency. Furthermore, the importance of investing in non-conventional water sources, such as reuse and desalination, is underlined. This can reduce the impact of freshwater scarcity. Without progress, Spain’s water management system will become unsustainable.

Different water uses

Agriculture is responsible for the majority of water consumption in Spain (80%). This is followed by household use (15.5%). Despite the decline in water availability in urban areas since 2005, losses in urban water supply remain significant, averaging 23%.

Towards a sustainable future

Experts argue for a tariff structure that is the same throughout Spain. This must in any case cover the operational costs and investments. The establishment of a National Water Fund is also proposed to facilitate investments, in collaboration with the private sector. This would pave the way for essential projects such as new treatment plants and pipe improvements to reduce losses.

The study concludes that Spain urgently needs to adapt its water management. Faced with high water stress and the consequences of climate change, both demand and supply need to be managed more efficiently. Regions should show mutual solidarity to this end. The infrastructure must be renewed with a clear focus on innovation and digitalisation to ensure a sustainable future.

Also read: In these Spanish cities comes the best water from the tap

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