UNBIASED: decrease and control of pollution for improving water management systems in Barcelona

A project led by the Instituto de Diagnóstico Ambiental y Estudios del Agua of the CSIC seeks to respond to the sustainable urban development queries and improve the water resources of the city. Knowing the concentration of Emerging Organic Pollutants of the water table in Barcelona and its evolution during time are some of the goals.

Obtention of data in Barcelona. Image: IDAEA-CSIC.The UNBIASED project seeks to know in depth the hydrological cycle of the city of Barcelona. Which are the pollutants, in which concentrations they can be found and how they arrived where they are some of the questions the IDAEA-CSIC initiative seeks to comprehend to improve the water management system.

The proposal is led by Enric Vázquez-Suñé and María Izquierdo Ramonet, at the Instituto de Diagnóstico Ambiental y Estudios del Agua (IDAEA) of the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), in collaboration with Sílvia Bofill Mas, from the Laboratory of Viruses Contaminants of Water and Food at the Universidad de Barcelona.

Water as it goes through the environmental compartments

The water resources of a city go through different points or environmental compartments throughout its cycle. Rainwater, transformed into urban runoff water, goes to the sewage and then some of it enters the ground and, afterwards, to the aquifers. Pollutants that turn up in each one of these compartments and how they can relocate from one to another are an insufficiently studied field.

Pollutants that relocate from one environmental compartment to another are an insufficiently studied field

The research team will obtain measures of organic chemical species, such as the Emerging Pollutants (EOPs, those that have yet to be legislated, either because its existence was unknown or because its possible effects are undetermined), and inorganic, such as metals and rare earth elements. Pathogen virus and indicators of human and animal faecal contamination in the different Barcelona’s environmental compartments will also be measured.

Obtention of data in Barcelona. Image: IDAEA-CSIC.“Knowing which is the concentration of pollutants, how they evolve and how they decrease is essential to build a framework with which the Administration can facilitate the tools and legislation as to how manage water resources in the city”, explains Enric Vázquez-Suñé.

Many initiatives have been carried out in Barcelona to achieve a better integrated management of the hydrogeochemical urban cycle since 1998. UNBIASED proposes to integrate such information, to add the microbiologic pollutants studies, such as indicators of virus and pathogens, and relate it with other processes that take place, both in the water table waters and in the air pollution and in soils.

Towards a sustainable urban development

“Knowing in detail the city’s hydrological cycle and aspects related to its quality can be very useful to reduce water consumption, one of the objectives in the challenge of climate change”, adds Vázquez-Suñé.

Reducing water consumption is one of the challenges of climate change

With these new data, one could know the dynamics of the pollutants and foresee the effects on the quality of the groundwater and, therefore, improve the design of the farms and estimate the costs of the treatment. Identifying areas in which it is necessary to strengthen control and prevention measures would be another one of the results.

The increase in population or the impact of climate change on the quality of urban water resources are issues that will be addressed in the study. The project also contemplates the realisation of cartographies and calculation tools to help administrations in decision-making policies and the improvement of the city’s environmental management, with a high social and economic impact for the sake of improving the health of people and ecosystems.

A project of the National Plan aimed at the Challenges of the Society

The UNBIASED project (acronym for UrbaN Bio-geochemistry: Integrating the Air, water, Soil and microbiological sciEnce needed to unDerpin pollution management) is a “Research Challenges” project of the National Plan, whose focus is aimed at solving problems linked to the great challenges of Spanish society included in the State Plan for Scientific and Technical Research and Innovation 2017-2020.