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Remunicipalization and anti-privatization movement in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain

Social movements in Barcelona are challenging the dominant position of AGBAR-Suez in the cities drinking water supply and fight for public and democratic water distribution.


Water supply in the metropolitan area of Barcelona is historically owned and organized by private, powerful actors (except for the civil war period 1936-1939). A brief history overview shows the involvement of such entities: The Sociedad General de Aguas de Barcelona (SGAB) was established in the early 1920s due to the purchase by a conglomerate by Spanish banks. SGAB is now owned by AGBAR (Aguas de Barcelona) group which was created 1975. In 1979, Lyonnaise des Eaux (later transformed into water multinational Suez) became a main shareholder of the entity, now being the sole owner by buying all stocks in 2015 [1]. Because the contracting conditions remained obscure throughout many decades, in 2010, a judge ruled the situation of the company and its activities to be illegal, forcing AGBAR and the Barcelona Metropolitan Area (AMB) to sign a public-private partnership (PPP) contract in order to regularize the situation [7]. In 2012, a mixed-capital company was established (85% private capital: SGAB holds 70% and another 15% belong to holding group Criteria, part of the bank La Caixa [19]) meanwhile AMB holds only 15%). 

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Remunicipalization and anti-privatization movement in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain
State or province:Catalonia
Location of conflict:Barcelona
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Water Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Water access rights and entitlements
Specific commodities:Water
Project Details and Actors
Project details

181,000,000 m3 of drinking water (2018)

Project area:63,000
Level of Investment for the conflictive project€41 million assets (at the city level) that the SGAB (AGBAR) contributed to the mixed capital company.
Type of populationUrban
Affected Population:More than 1.5 million metropolitan domestic subscribers (2018)
Start of the conflict:01/11/2011
Company names or state enterprises:Aguas de Barcelona (AGBAR) from Spain - Private actor
Sociedad General de Aguas de Barcelona (AGBAR) from Spain - Private actor
Suez-Lyonnaise des Eaux from France
Relevant government actors:Àrea Metropolitana de Barcelona (AMB) (
Barcelona En Comu (
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Aigua es Vida (
Moviment per l'Aigua Pública i Democràtica (
Barcelona En Comu (
Red Agua Publica (
FAVB Federació d'Associacions Veïnals de Barcelona (
Alianza contra la Pobreza Energética (APE) (
Asociación Española de Operadores Públicos de Abastecimiento (
Transnational Institute (
European Water Movement
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:International ejos
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Forms of mobilization:Artistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Boycotts of official procedures/non-participation in official processes
Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Referendum other local consultations
Street protest/marches
Boycotts of companies-products
Environmental ImpactsPotential: Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Health ImpactsPotential: Infectious diseases, Other Health impacts, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide
Other Health impactsPotential: Covid-19 risk due to costly water and unequal access,
health impacts related to the quality of water, as the international experience has shown that private water companies neglect quality issues in their effort to maximize their profits
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Other socio-economic impacts
Potential: Violations of human rights
Other socio-economic impactsEnergy poverty and rising individual debt due to relatively high bills
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Negotiated alternative solution
New legislation
Strengthening of participation
Withdrawal of company/investment
Proposal and development of alternatives:Civil Society organisation are working along with progressive political parties for the remunicipalisation of essential public services like water. That means a transparent, participative water supply system that meets current and future demands and challenges for the environment and social actors. According to data presented by Aigua es Vida, public management would be 18% cheaper and results in a reduction of losses by 23% while increasing investments by 18%. As such a reduction in tariffs could be feasible meaning that water bills could be reduced by at least 10% resulting in higher amounts of savings and a social rate that relives economic stress from customers [5].
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:At the time of this entry, the conflict has not been solved. The ruling of the Supreme Court that encourages private management by AGBAR clearly symbolizes a setback for the remunicipalization movement. Nevertheless, there are some factors which could strengthen the demands of civil society organisations which continue to fight for a just, equally accessible and democratic water supply: First of all, the plans of SUEZ to disinvest and sell its AGBAR shares could be an opportunity for the city council to take back control and to transform water supply in the Metropolitan Area into public hands. Another development that arouses hope for the cause of public water is the re-election of the group Barcelona en Comu. Although political process depends also largely on other parties, since their government in the city council of Barcelona only holds a minority vote, there is still a progressive, grass-root oriented party that can be able to carry voices of the civil society into city politics. The continuing campaigning and information work of platforms such as Aigua es Vida will mobilize more citizens and therefore puts pressure on other leftist political parties to implement remunicipalization into their agenda. This is especially relevant due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic which is worsening social and economic inequality and shows itself in this case through unequal access to water, making such a transformation much more urgent.
Sources & Materials
Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

Real decreto ley 8/2020 -

Real decreto ley 11/2020
[click to view]

Real decreto ley 11/2020
[click to view]

Real decreto ley 8/2020
[click to view]

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[1] March, H., Grau-Satorras, M., Saurí, D., & Swyngedouw, E. - The deadlock of metropolitan remunicipalisation of water services management in Barcelona. Water Alternatives, 12(2), 360-379. 2019
[click to view]

[4] D. Hall - Barcelona reorganises public services in the people's interest - Remunicipalisation movement in Spain. 2017
[click to view]

[6] L. Forné - Public-Community Municipalism in Defence of the Commons. 2020.
[click to view]

[7] Planas, M. - A citizen wave to reclaim public and democratic water in Catalan municipalities. Reclaiming Public Service. 2017
[click to view]

[10] Míriam Planas and Juan Martínez - Spain/Catalonia: Can Terrassa’s new public water service be a model? 2019.
[click to view]

[25] Eloi Badia and Moisès Subirana (2015). Window of opportunity for public water in Catalonia
[click to view]

[2] Barcelona Field Study Centre - Water Supply in the Barcelona Region
[click to view]

[3] European Water Movement - Conflict in Barcelona/Catalonia - Creating a new company without concession
[click to view]

[5] Savegreekwater - Barcelona votes for public control of water. 2016
[click to view]

[8] L. Bertran - The rising tide for the democratic control of water in Barcelona. 2018
[click to view]

[9] European Water Movement - Metropolitan Area of Barcelona: Agreement for a public and democratic water system.
[click to view]

[11] Aigua es Vida
[click to view]

[12] La Vanguardia - La multiconsulta de Colau pincha. 2018
[click to view]

[12] La Vanguardia - La multiconsulta de Colau pincha. 2018
[click to view]

[13] La Vanguardia - Aigua és Vida denuncia a Agbar por dar servicio sin contrato. 2013
[click to view]

[14] La Vanguardia - Barcelona estudiará la remunicipalización del suministro de agua. 2016
[click to view]

[15] Cinco Dias, El País - El Supremo respalda a Agbar al frente de la concesión del agua de Barcelona. 2019
[click to view]

[16] El País - El agua vuelve al grifo público. 2014
[click to view]

[17] Aigua es Vida - Davant la venda d’AGBAR, l’AMB ha de remunicipalitzar l’Aigua. 2020
[click to view]

[18] Aigua es Vida - Per què defensar la gestió pública.
[click to view]

[18] Cinco Dias, El País - Suez desafía al Covid-19 y lanza la venta de Agbar para lograr 3.000 millones. 2020
[click to view]

[19] Jorge Chamorro, iagua - Área metropolitana de Barcelona (AMB): un caso de estudio para MBA. 2019
[click to view]

[20] Smart Water Magazin - Suez considers selling Agbar or United Water to reduce its debt. 2019
[click to view]

[click to view]

[22] Aigua es Vida - Carta a la ministra de Transició Ecològica per a reclamar la gestió pública de l’abastament i sanejament de l’aigua. 2020
[click to view]

[23] F. Millan - Més de 200 entitats s'uneixen per la remunicipalització de l'aigua a Barcelona. 2019
[click to view]

[24] Expansión - Colau volvería a ganar las elecciones pero suspende en valoración con 4,9 puntos. 2020
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

10 veus per l'aigua de Barcelona
[click to view]

La gestió de l’aigua a Barcelona
[click to view]

És possible una gestió pública i democràtica de l'agua?
[click to view]

International support to water remunicipalisation in Barcelona
[click to view]

Other documents

Protest sign, Enginyeria sense Fronteres Presentació del recurs de reposició a l’Ajuntament de Barcelona. Pel dret a la participació! -
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Luca Scheunpflug, EJAtlas project research intern, [email protected]
Last update19/05/2021
Conflict ID:5185
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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