Tue, Mar

Interview with Salvador Plana


“CAT has always had the willingness and the vocation to respect sustainability, given that it works with a natural resource, essential for life, which is scarce and must be protected. Thus, the need for an efficient use and responsible consumption has presided over the management system in the last years”


The CAT commemorated its 25th anniversary last November. Tell us about its mission and the path it has followed all over these years.

The mission of the Consorcio d’Aigües de Tarragona (CAT; “Tarragona Water Consortium”) is to provide water to those adhered to the consortium (61 municipalities and 29 industries) with a guarantee in terms of quantity and quality, according to the licence available in a law-abiding manner, at the best possible price.

All over these years, we have balanced two aspects: the anticipation of future needs and of future requests by European regulations or more restrictive legal frameworks and the increase in the number of agents adhered to the consortium and the demand increase. Constant innovation for continuous improvement of the service sets the common goal in the path we have followed over these years.

As a public, not-for-profit agent, the CAT is not allowed to have benefits, which means that the income and expenses budgets need to be balanced. This involves efficient management, as facility maintenance and amortization schedules are included in the price, along with the cost of water treatment processes. We should bear in mind that we obtain water in the final section of a river that runs along half the peninsula. 


Water is an essential element for the development of a territory. Which are the contributions of the CAT to the achievement of development sustainability and to moving towards a proper progress?

The Law 18/81 -regulating the 123 Hm3 per year concession- may be considered the smart DNA of the CAT, as the Law grants a maximum of 4m3/second recovered from the 10 m3/second that were considered not to be taken advantage of by filtrations in the irrigation channels in the right and left Ebre river banks. That is to say, for the first time, there is no direct drawdown from the river. The CAT is considered just another irrigator in every community.

From this point of view, the willingness and vocation of CAT has always been to respect sustainability, given that it works with a natural resource, essential for life, which is scarce and must be protected. Thus, the need for an efficient use and responsible consumption has presided over the management system in the last years. Fostering inspections of municipal distribution networks to avoid leakages, and promoting a people-oriented dissemination of the need for consuming responsibly has set the basis for the CAT action axis. Remarkable results have been obtained: in spite of the population increase, a trend towards a reduction in consumption has been achieved.

As a public entity, information transparency and policies on volunteer commitment to responsible codes of conduct are the guidelines behind such actions. This may be seen in the ISO, OHSAS and Social Responsibility certifications obtained. 


Besides, smart criteria are focused on investments in technology, energy efficiency, etc. To which extent is CAT working on these fundamental aspects?

At the beginning of the current decade, once the expansion project for deposit storage capacity was over, besides the improvement in the quality of water brought about by the utilization of active carbon filters and the Laboratorio de Calidad (Laboratory for Quality) -this includes the Unidad Radioactiva Ambiental y Sanitaria (URAIS; “Radioactive Environmental and Healthcare Unit”) and is managed by the Universidad Rovira i Virgili (URV, “Rovira i Virgili University”)- we were ready to face any events related to treatment of contaminated sludge deposited in the river. In this moment, in the former chemical plant in Flix, a new stage was started, which initiated the Smart process. This began with the unification of the central control unit of the facilities, which has been located in the treatment plant in l’Ampolla (Baix Ebre) since June 2012.

Management automation in the whole process -from drawdown to production in the Estación de Tratamiento de Agua Potable (ETAP; “Treatment Plant for Clean Water”) to the distribution network to 119 sites- implied having 24.000 signals that are updated every 10 seconds.

After the aforementioned change, a wide range of synergies was created in the improvement and efficiency of the process, which enabled us to launch other investments to move forward in this path. These came into being in the context of a five-year plan. The most relevant project, which was launched at the end of 2014 and was fully operational last January, is called SAOOEC: Sistema Automático de Operación con Optimización Energética (“Automated Operation System with Energy Optimization”). This is the first of its kind to be working in the European continent, and a 15%-saving in the cost of energy is guaranteed in the contract (which is the 20% of the total budget structure). The system may work with real-time rates, a fact that positions the CAT as a model to be followed -both from the strategy and technology point of view- in the water operators sector.

The execution of a project to use ozone instead of chlorine in the water disinfection process is now expected to be in operation next year. Besides, safety improvements (in transport and facilities, as the product-intrinsic risk is avoided) will be useful to prevent future requests, such as those involving medical drug residues in water. 


The CAT stands up for Corporate Responsibility and responsibility towards the territory. Tell us briefly where these commitments may be seen.

A volunteer programme for Corporate Responsibility actions is included in the CAT’s strategic plan. The programme is based on three pillars: Information Transparency, actions to raise Awareness and a Commitment to Sustainability. All the aforementioned actions are cross-cutting with the ASG (Ambiental, Social y Gobernanza; “Environmental, Social and Governance”) guidelines in the Consortium, and deeply rooted in the Human Resources policies and department. Besides, we keep in mind the awareness on the global challenges of humankind, and this is why we include specific actions to contribute to the achievement of the Millenium Goals stated by the UNO, such as the LIFE programme, which contributes to the reduction of the effects of climate change in the Delta del Ebro (Ebre delta).

In terms of Sustainability, the following actions may be underscored: standing up for a minimum water flow in the Ebre river; actively following the decontamination project of toxic sludge in the Flix reservoir and the active maintenance of the Emergency Plan between Consortium members and citizens through mass media. Drills were organized to ensure effectiveness.

As for information transparency, besides our website we keep cooperation agreements with the most representative and strategic mass media, with a view to raise awareness in the population in terms of efficient and responsible water use. Such agreements are also aimed at maintaining an information flow and at keeping communication channels for emergency situations.

Awareness actions are brought to life by school visits: around one thousand students a year (apart from other groups) visit us. The creation of the “Espacio de Agua” (“Water Space”) has involved an improvement in the relationship with the territory and the institutions, as a space that permits a relaxed atmosphere in the visit is added to CAT’s eagerness to communicate.


Espai Aigua


In the same line, which certifications would you highlight among all those held by CAT?

The certifications for the ISO Management System have gradually been obtained: 9001 for Quality; 14001 for Environmental Issues and 17025, a quality regulation that establishes the requisites to be fulfilled by testing and calibration laboratories. Last February, the 22000 certification for food Safety was obtained, which permits an improvement in food safety all along the supply chain.

We have also been granted AENOR certifications, as well as the Certificate for the Health and Safety System at Work (OHSAS 18001). In the Social Responsibility area, the GRI certification (Global Reporting Initiative) was obtained so that the Sustainability Report could be written according to standard indicators. Finally, we should mentioned that the CAT also has the original software certification.

Certifications -along with the actions required to obtain and maintain them- provide added value for all Consortium members.


Water resources and their sustainability are fundamental aspects in EU policies. Which European projects has the CAT taken part in? Which projects is it taking part in right now?

We are currently working on the LIFE project for Measures to adapt and reduce Climate Change in the Ebre delta. This is the project we are currently working on, the most relevant one and the one in which the CAT has a more straightforward participation. CAT will provide residual sludges obtained in water treatment processes so that they may be brought back to the environment, if the project proves it to be a feasible alternative.

Another interesting project is being developed in cooperation with CETAQUA (Centro Tecnológico del Agua; “Water Technology Center”): the minimization of health and environmental hazards and the design of the pillars for a 21st-century ETAP. This is based on the evaluation of microbiological and radiological hazards, the anticipation of future scenarios (both in terms of regulations and in the forecast of water flow variability in the river) and the initial design of the plant with the best technologies available.

We should also mention the cooperation with the Universitat Rovira i Virgili, which performed the Life Cycle analysis in the ETAP located in l’Ampolla to determine the environmental burden associated to the different phases of the treatment process in order to obtain an environmental overview of the plant, as well as that of those stages on which the efforts on environmental improvement should be focused.


Do you think Tarragona is a role model in the smart use and management of water resources?

We should bear in mind that the CAT is a management entity for wholesale water. This means we distribute water in the wholesale market, not to final users but to municipalities. They distribute it to citizens through companies that provide local services, and the water provided may be added to their own resources, apart from those provided by the CAT.

The CAT may be used as a distinctive model to inspire other similar companies or processes by avoiding direct water drawdown from the river and instead using canals where previous riverbed coating work has been done. Besides, investment leadership to keep service quantity and quality, as well as the concern for an efficient management, may be values to consider, and an evidence for that may be the energy saving project we mentioned above. In fact, several entities have already acknowledged our background, such as the Asociación de Amigos del Agua (“Friends of Water Association”), the Chamber of Commerce in Tortosa…

In case any organization is interested, the CAT is open to sharing experiences and providing support along the process.


By Ana Crespo

Salvador Plana Gil (Barcelona 1952) is an Industrial Engineer by the Escuela Técnica Superior de Ingenieros Industriales de Barcelona (“Higher Technical School of Industrial Engineering in Barcelona”). He obtained his degree in 1974, and from 1974 to 1980 he worked for Sener S.A. (Madrid) as a Process Engineer. Since then and until 2009, he worked in Dow Chemical Iberica (Tarragona complex) where he developed several tasks, led projects and held responsibilities. Since July 2009 he has been the Managing Director of the Consorci d’Aigües de Tarragona (CAT).


The Consortium Convention is composed of representatives belonging to public entities and to associated industrial companies. In the first place, the Generalitat (the autonomous government in Catalunya) is represented by nine board members appointed by the Conseller de Territori i Sostenibilitat de la Generalitat (the regional minister for Territory and Sustainability); two of them are recommended by the Ebre river irrigation communities from which the water in the concession is obtained. Representation by local councils includes a board member for each municipality that belongs to the Consortium. Each of the industrial companies that belong to the consortium also has a board member representative in the Convention.