Having your glass of water and drinking it

Coverage of the Barcelona water crisis in yesterday’s Vanguardia was a standard victimist litany:

  1. Our consumption per capita is low compared to other cities.
  2. We have reduced consumption per capita significantly
  3. It is like SO unfair that we’re all going to have to roll around in sand to get clean this summer.

I think the comparative stats quoted are probably a pile of crap. Global benchmarking in the field–eg to separate out industrial and domestic use–is immature, and the stats were sourced from the water company, which has every interest in increased consumption. It’s difficult to credit even a Vanguardia journalist believing that Peking residents are using more than six times as much water, and it’s easy to find sources that give much lower figures.

Consumption per capita has indeed fallen: Aigues de Barcelona apparently says (their Flash site makes it quite difficult to find anything) that demand per inhabitant dropped from 131 to 116 litres/day, some 11.5%, between 1997 and 2006. Part of this may be down to a switch to bottled as a result of stuff like the poisoning scare last autumn and the deteriorating flavour even outside areas fed from the Llobregat–tap water in the area of Gracia I stay in has become undrinkable in the last couple of months–but let’s not moan overly.

However, official statements and press reporting have tended to lead people to believe that total consumption has also fallen, which is what we need to achieve if resources are shrinking. In fact, city council and regional government policy over the years means that it would be sensible to assume that total decline has been much less pronounced.

Economic growth in Barcelona over the same decade has derived substantially from an explosion in construction and tourism, which has sucked in considerable numbers of additional permanent and temporary consumers. City stats show a 6.5% (102,000) growth in population over the same decade, while hotel overnight stays have increased 56% from 7.5M in 1998 to 11.7M in 2007, which if conventional estimates of double normal use in the Mediterranean are correct is equivalent to an additional 23,000 permanent residents.

Do the numbers, and you’re looking at a structural decrease in total consumption over the last decade of perhaps only 5%. That doesn’t seem terribly impressive, given all the pseudo-green “oh no, we’re not going to pipe more in” posturing we’ve had to suffer from the politicians in the same period. Hell, I like rolling around in sand.

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