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Spain: Heated debate on concession award to water company

05 November 2012
In Spain a heated debate is raging over the legality of a recent concession award to Spanish water services company Agbar.

The recent decision by the metropolitan area of Barcelona (AMB) to award a 35-year integral water cycle concession for greater Barcelona to Spain's largest private operator Agbar without an open tender is facing concerted opposition from private sector water operators, NGOs and municipalities, according to an article from Global Water Intelligence (GWI).

Agbar and its subsidiary Sorea already manage water supply in 28 of the AMB's 36 municipalities, including Barcelona city, and have had a strong presence since the mid-19th century. With the inclusion of wastewater - up to now the responsibility of the public company EMSSA - Agbar's operation will become a virtual monopoly in the metropolitan area, says GWI.

When Ricard Gomà, deputy mayor of the Barcelona municipality of El Prat de Llobregat and a member of AMB's governing council, questioned the decision, he was told that "because Agbar already enjoys a near-monopoly on water provision in the metropolitan area, it is legitimate to award the concession without an open tender."

A tender process was unnecessary, said Ricard Gomà to GWI, because "creating the joint company only changed the management model for wastewater treatment and water supply, but did not alter existing rights and concessions."

Aigua és Vida, a coalition set up to oppose the awarding of Catalan municipal water concessions to private sector companies, argues that the real motive for avoiding an open tender is Agbar's current precarious legal position with regard to its Barcelona operations.

Coalition spokesman Eloi Badía told GWI that, since a court ruled in 2010 that it has no legal contract of concession or award of service for the water supply operation it runs in the city of Barcelona, Agbar "has been operating in a legal vacuum.

"They know they have to regularise their situation. Defining the 35-year concession as a continuation of the contract that Agbar obtained in 1997 to operate the Abrera WTP is the means that Agbar and AMB have devised to resolve the legal problem," he said to GWI.


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