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Working towards a pollution-free Besòs river

As a close partner to the Barcelona municipality, the strategic urban planning agency Barcelona Regional works on a long-term perspective on treating and using water in the urban environment. Through the UPWATER project, the agency aims to gain a better understanding of pollutants in the water in order to come up with better policies to meet higher water standards, according to Marc Montlleo, Director of Environmental Projects for BR.

Barcelona Regional is a public agency for strategic planning, urbanism and infrastructures, closely associated with the municipality of Barcelona and the metropolitan area. One of their projects is the environmental restoration of the Besòs river, which has long been under pressure from heavy industry to the north of Barcelona. As a result, the river still contains high levels of ammonium, metals such as iron and manganese, CECs and pathogens, all infiltrating the groundwater.

Within the UPWATER project, director Marc Montlleo and his colleague and biologist Mireia Fillol-Homs hope to confront this water challenge in Barcelona. ‘The main objective is to ensure the supply of water in the metropolitan area for all uses, in quantity and quality in a sustainable, resilient and efficient manner’, say Fillol-Homs and Montlleo, explaining why they joined UPWATER.

Contributing to the strategic plan for water management

In the seven years leading up to 2022, Barcelona Regional has worked on PECIA, a strategic plan for the Strategic Plan for the Integral Water Cycle of the metropolitan area of Barcelona. In this document, a characterisation is made of all sources of water in the area such as the rivers Llobregat, Ter and Besos and aquifers Llobregat and Besòs. These sources are not only vital as of right now, but even more in the future.

The strategic plan shows the dedication of Barcelona Regional to safeguard the current and future potential of bodies of water for all water needs. The plan considers all the systems and works at many different levels of implementation, Fillol-Homs says. Therefore it truly approaches water management as a whole. UPWATER will work the same way, approaching the challenge of pollutants in the water with all relevant stakeholders in all case study areas.

Interested in data

Right now, Barcelona Regional is overseeing the necessary permits for the case study in Barcelona. In addition, they coordinate the interactions between UPWATER partners, the city’s administration and other organizations that operate in the area. In the last week of February, they will meet with the Spanish partners to discuss, among other things, the location where the first samples in the Besòs river will be collected.

‘Our part here is to support and facilitate the scientific teams and their tasks in the Besòs case study’, Marc Montlleo says. The strategic urban planning agency he works for is very much interested in the data that these partners will produce. ‘Through a web-based platform that will be set up for UPWATER, we will have access to not only databases but also processed information.’ That information will be helpful for Barcelona Regional to advise the Barcelona government on better policy.

According to Montlleo and Fillol-Homs, the power of UPWATER lies in the vast network of European partners. Fillol-Homs adds: ‘We are in a privileged position to work with leading universities, research institutes, but also local bodies of government and private companies. With the right connections, we can create more feasible solutions and projects.’

‘This made it interesting for us to join the project’, says Montlleo. The opinion of the Director of Barcelona Regional is that the European project has the potential to alter the established perspective on the utilization and administration of water, which ultimately reaches all households. It could very well impact the way that the Barcelona government and other stakeholders are gathering and using data on water treatment.

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