In this section, you will find a presentation of the people we have interviewed for this project to gain valuable qualitative data. Next to the photos, you can find the podcast and the downloadable PDF transcripts of the interviews. Some of the podcasts are in Catalan or Spanish and you will find in the downloadable PDF the interview transcripts in the original language and the authors’ English translation of them. Furthermore, you can have a look at the additional information about the interviewees and the main ideas mentioned throughout the interviews.
We have also reached out to the Barcelona Desalination Plant but did not receive a reply. Furthermore, Miguel Angel Sanz has replied to us after this project was finished.
Hereby, we would like to warmly thank all the interviewees for being willing to talk to us and participate in this project. It was such an enriching experience for us and we greatly appreciate hearing their opinions on desalination and water management in Spain and more specifically Barcelona. We have truly enjoyed it! We hope you have fun listening to the podcasts and learn something new!
Erik Swyngedouw, interview by Donna Mlyneck
April 1, 2021
Erik Swyngedouw is a Professor of Geography at the University of Manchester in the School of Environment, Education and Development. His main research interests concern the political economy of contemporary capitalism, spatial restructuring, and political-ecological themes, notably on water management issues. He also wrote several critical publications on desalination in Spain.
In his opinion, desalination is a socio-spatial and technical-managerial ‘fix’, which sustains a process of ‘depoliticisation’. During the interview, Swyngedouw explains that the myth of water scarcity is absolutely central to perpetuate the desalination ‘fix’ as well as the myth that development, modernisation, and neoliberalism is good.
Furthermore, he stresses that the voices that are utterly silenced in the Barcelona controversy are those who argue for degrowth and that desalination is a socio-technical ‘fix’, which is aimed at maintaining a fundamentally unsustainable socio-ecological development model that is contemporary capitalism. Furthermore, the most important actors, which are not heard in the dominant desalination discourse are the non-humans, such as the fish and the health of the ecosystems, which are negatively affected by, for instance, the brine.
Sara Fernandez, interview by Donna Mlyneck
April 6, 2021
Sara Fernandez is a researcher in Political Geography and focuses on social studies of water, in particular scarcity, pollution and future studies. Currently, she works at the “Institut national de recherche en sciences et technologies et pour l’environnement et l’agriculture” (Irstea).
Sara Fernandez illustrates that water is very politicised and has encouraged activism and protest in Spain. She neatly contextualises during the interview the 2004 elections in Spain and explains how the Iraq War in 2003 and the Madrid Train bombings in March 2004 destabilised the right wing party PP and led to the rise of the PSOE and the AGUA program. Also, she discusses the controversies surrounding the different inter-basin water transfer projects in Spain.
LLuis Basteiro (AMAP), interview by Ana Lucia Londoño & Lola Mata
April 6, 2021
AMAP stands for “Associació de Municipis i Entitats per l'Aigua Pública” (in English: Association of Catalan municipalities and entities for public water management). Hence, AMAP is an association of Catalan municipalities and entities for public water management. They support local councils that want to move towards public water management.
During the interview, Lluis Basteiro from AMAP points out that water is a global and essential common good for everyone. Hence, he argues that it must be managed democratically and publicly. Concerning desalination, LLuis Basteiro has a rather nuanced or even anti-desalination stance. He explains that Catalonia is an area of water risk; however, the situation will not be better achieved by increasing the production of the desalination plant, but with the use of reclaimed water and grey water. What AMAP prioritly asks for is a moratorium on urban growth, especially on urbanisation in the metropolitan area. According to him, Agbar is an omnipresent company that does not consider water as a human right, but a commercial asset. This results in a large business lobby defending private water management, led by Agbar and la Caixa, in which there is great co-option, and a very strong interpenetration between the political sphere and private one (Agbar).
David Sauri, interview by Ana Lucia Londoño & Lola Mata
April 9, 2021
David Sauri is a Professor at the Geography Department of the Autonomous University of Barcelona focusing on Geography, water management, natural hazards and environmental history.
In the podcast, David Sauri contends that desalination emerged as a solution to protect the delta. Furthermore, he thinks that rather than being a ‘top-down’ imposed solution, desalination is a political issue and a technical alternative based on social consensus.
According to him seawater is perceived as an "infinite" and no-man's-land resource, and an alternative that solves many of the problems of diversion. Desalination is well regarded by the EU, it is an ecological solution and in line with the Water Directive. Still, to him, desalination is necessary: it is important for the economy and the citizens to have water. He also points out that desalination has alternatives that work well, purified wastewater is one of them but the problem may be the people's reaction : There might be a certain "mistrust", because people remember the great epidemics transmitted by water: cholera, typhus,etc. There is a cultural role in the use of water. Finally he told us that Agbar is a company that doesn’t have a good figure nowadays because the company doesn’t communicate enough. He advised us to say that, indeed, Agbar hadn’t replied to our sollicitation.
Miriam Planas i Quim Pérez (Aigua és Vida i Enginyeria Sense Fronteres)
interview by Ana Lucia Londoño & Lola Mata - April 9, 2021
L’Aigua es vida is an environmental group that promotes the public management of water and its re-municipalisation. They gave us an activist vision and were critical of Agbar and Suez. This NGO prefers desalination to river basin transfers as a means to protect the Ebro river.
During the interview, Quim Perez from L’aigua es vida explains that the platform is aware of the negative environmental impacts of desalination, such as the brine or CO2 emissions; however, it is for them a better option than the river basin transfers with regards to the protection of the Ebro river. Quim Perez stresses that in the face of this dichotomy - river water transfers or desalination - there was a consensual solution that made the desalination plants serve as an emergency solution.
However, the NGO heavily criticizes the privatisation of water. Quim Pérez points out the revolving doors that there have been with Agbar. He explains that Angel Simon was president of Agbar and vice president of Suez but also was the manager of the metropolitan area on water and environmental issues (36 municipalities). They actively advocate for remunicipalisation in Barcelona and told us “We are inspired by the remunicipalisation of Paris and the Observatoire de l’eau de Paris”.
In spite of that, they state that the reality of water issues in Barcelona make the guarantee of supply at risk. And that and drought would be a disaster, because of the Water hammer effect but also because of the human right to water in a Mediterranean context of great drought.
Joe Williams, interview by Donna Mlyneck
April 12, 2021
Joe Williams is a lecturer in Human Geography at the University of Bristol in the School of Geographical Sciences. His research interests include urban studies, political ecology, political economy, science and technology studies, and politics of water governance. In addition, he has written several publications on the political ecology of seawater desalination.
Joe Williams neatly illustrates that desalination gives an interesting lens to study the broader issues around political ecologies and related power asymmetries. He contends that desalination is not a solution but rather a contradictory “fix”, which increases water supply, but also raises wider socio-political and economic issues. Moreover, Joe Williams thinks that desalination is a technology, which is often used to circumvent water politics. In the Spanish case, desalination was used to reconcile the political tensions between the Northern and the Southern part.