The unintended consequences of ecological modernization: Debt-induced reconfiguration of the water cycle in Barcelona

Hug March, David Saurí

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


In the context of the European debt crisis, neoliberal reforms question the legitimacy of the state in the direct provision of basic services. Water governance mirrors such issues. In Metropolitan Barcelona (northeast Spain) the water cycle is being redrawn with the leasing to private hands of the regional public bulk water supplier. The unbearable debt accumulated by the Catalan Water Agency is used as the discursive justification of the 'inevitability' of granting to private capital the control over the water cycle. We attempt to demonstrate that this debt is the result of large investments, required by European directives (Wastewater Directive, Drinking Water Directive, and European Water Framework Directive) to improve the quality of rivers and water bodies. These directives, combined with the restrictions imposed on budget deficits by the European Union and the inadequate regional financing model of water have put the Catalan Water Agency against the wall. The financial crisis, wreaking havoc in Spain and Catalonia, has finally exacerbated the tensions around the water cycle as the Catalan administration has observed how international markets turned off the credit tap. In the paper we wish to elucidate pervasive processes of private participation in Metropolitan Barcelona and analyze the intricate relationship between the emergence and deepening of the recent crisis, scalar processes of ecological modernization, and the production of neoliberal natures. © 2013 Pion and its Licensors.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2064-2083
JournalEnvironment and Planning A
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 26 Sep 2013


  • Barcelona
  • Debt
  • Ecological modernization
  • Economic crisis
  • European Directives
  • Private sector participation


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