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Besòs, Barcelona – Spain

Case study 2

The Besòs river delta aquifer in the Barcelona metropolitan area faces challenges due to heavy pollution, limiting its use for irrigation and drinking water and posing health and environmental risks. The UPWATER project aims to assess groundwater recharge, identify pollution sources, and explore circular bio-based solutions to improve water quality. Innovative methods include monitoring, mitigation and prevention strategies integrated with the natural environment. The project also seeks to create scenarios for optimizing water resources and management in the region.

IDEA-CSIC (lead partner)

Universitat de Barcelona (UB)

Fundación Nueva Cultura del Agua (FNCA)

Barcelona Regional Agencia Metropolitana de Desenvolupament Urbanístic d’infrastructures SA (BR)

Besos river, Barcelona

Environmental characteristics

The Besòs river delta aquifer is located in the north-eastern corner of the Barcelona metropolitan area, close to the city itself. This area is classified as Mediterranean hot summer climate. Rainfall patterns are highly variable, alternating long drought periods with extreme rainfall events. Therefore, the aquifer is an important local groundwater resource. For industrial and urban development, but also to irrigate the green spaces of the city, such as public parks.

Main challenges

With enormous social and economic activity, the Barcelona metropolitan area is putting a lot of pressure on available water sources in the vicinity of the city. The use of water for drinking water is gradually more and more limited due to the quality of the water. The water is heavily polluted: it contains high levels of ammonium and metals (iron and manganese) and other Contaminants of Emerging Concern (CEC) and pathogens from the river Besòs. These pollutants find their way from the surface water to the groundwater, causing health and environmental risks. As a result, water needs to be pumped from sources hundreds of kilometres away from the city.

What we aim to achieve

In order to improve these conditions, the UPWATER project aims to quantify the groundwater recharge and to characterise groundwater pollution sources, to see how the quality of the water changes over time. The project partners will also assess potential induced aquifer recharge from contaminated secondary-treated wastewater.

On top of that, the Barcelona case study site will test and validate innovative technologies and solutions, based on circular bio-based systems (NBS) that are also more cost-effective than current approaches. Systems that preferably integrate seamlessly with the natural area itself. This is aligned with the goals for the other two case studies in Stengaarden and Athens.

During the UPWATER project, the Barcelona site will also create scenarios on available water resources in the area. This will lead to proposals for new possible uses for the available water, its demands and necessary water management.

Our approach builds upon prior research. Prestudies in another pilot and lab conditions have already shown the ability of the envisaged processes to remove pollution sources in question. The next step is to consolidate that knowledge under different climatic and weather conditions.

Innovative methods in this case study

In the UPWATER project, there are three types of methods or solutions that are tested in Barcelona: monitoring, mitigation and prevention.

  • Ceramic passive samplers (CPS)
  • Viral passive samplers (VPS)
  • Diffusive gradients in thin films (DGT)
  • Pollution source apportionment modelling (EMMA and MIX)
  • Floating root mats and biolectrochemical wetlands
  • Preventive non-technological solutions

Are you interested in delving deeper into the methodologies employed in the Barcelona case study, or the methodologies employed in the other UPWATER case studies? For more detailed information, please continue reading on the dedicated methods page.

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