Parched Barcelona to have £150m lifeline

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The Independent Online

Spain approved an emergency plan today to divert vast amounts of river water to drought-stricken Barcelona, the latest chapter in the country's never-ending water wars.

Much of Spain has been enduring a drought for years, but this time Barcelona and the area around it are worst off; reservoirs there are at a fifth of their capacity and officials say water restrictions will be needed in the autumn unless it rains by then.

After weeks of proposals, counterproposals and bickering between Madrid and Catalan region authorities, the Spanish government said today they would divert up to 13 billion gallons of water from the River Ebro through an existing series of pipelines, then through an extension that will now be built, to Barcelona.

It will cost around £150 million and the new conduit will take six months to build.

"If we do not act, the people of the city of Barcelona will have no drinking water in October. It is as simple as that," Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega said.

"A responsible government must address this emergency," she added.

The plan is controversial because one of the first things the Socialist government did on taking power in 2004 was to cancel plans for a similar transfer of water from the Ebro, albeit in a much bigger quantity and in a different direction: to the bone-dry south-east.

The previous conservative government of the Popular Party had come up with that project, and two of the regions that stood most to gain were ruled by that party.