Is Barcelona's water cheap?
August 2007 - “Water in Barcelona is very expensive!” exclaimed Carmen Caballero, a resident of Barcelona for almost 43 years. She normally pays anywhere between €26 and €30 every month, but since she lives alone, and does not need a lot of water, she thinks she should be paying less, and said she is alarmed by the rapid rise of her water bills over the past few years.
However, water bill in hand, she noted it is not really the water, itself, that is expensive, but the taxes and extra charges that balloon the price. For this, she blames the government and not the water company.
Barcelona’s biggest private water company is Aïgues de Barcelona, which supplies water to 30 municipalities in Barcelona province, as well as more than 19 million inhabitants in almost 1,000 cities and villages in Spain, ranging from 1,000 to more than 3 million inhabitants. However, the water company does not actually have anything to do with dictating water prices, according to Annabel Serrano of the Agbar Corporate Communications office at Aïgues de Barcelona. What Aïgues does, she said, is transport, treat and distribute drinking water. “The question of prices we cannot talk about because it is the responsibility of another organisation,” she said.
In Barcelona, it is actually the Entitat del Medi Ambient Área Metropolitana de Barcelona that oversees water rate regulation. Water in most households in the Barcelona metropolitan area is metered, as in other major metropolitan areas in Spain, and tariffs are based on a block rate structure, and include a service fee. The bill also includes a tax for waste-water treatment, which has been in place since the late Nineties to pay for the costs of water treatment and effluent disposal. This means that consumers may have some justification for feeling their bills are more expensive than in most other places in Spain.
But a recent study by the UK-based Water Services Regulation Authority (OFWAT), shows that Spain actually has one of the lowest costs of water among some countries in the European Union. In its study entitled “International Comparison of Water and Sewerage Service” released last April, OFWAT set out a selection of average household water bills for customers in comparison with other countries in the EU region. It shows the cost of water in Europe falling within a fairly narrow band with the most notable exceptions being Sweden, Italy and Spain.
In the survey made for the year 2005, Palma was shown to have the highest water tariff in Spain, with almost €1.47 per cubic metre and almost €2.58 p/m in waste-water tax. This was followed by Barcelona, which paid less than €1.11 p/m for water, but more than €1.45 p/m for waste-water treatment and, Madrid paying a water tariff of €0.74 p/m and a little more than €1.10 p/m for its waste-water tariff. These figures are all among the lowest in Europe. Copenhagen, for instance, pays more than €2.21 p/m and a wastewater tax of almost €4.43 p/m.
That may change soon, because of the Llobregat desalination plant, being built by Aïgues de Barcelona. The plant will start operating in 2009, and is expected to notably improve the taste of local water, as well as add to its monthly bill, thanks to its €150 million construction bill.
With this prospect of more price increases yet to come, consumers like Carmen Caballero can only be at the receiving end. “You have to bear with what they give you,” she said resignedly. “You can’t do anything. What can we do? We have to pay, it’s water.”