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NEWS: Suez/Agbar and Quebec’s Caisse de dépôt look to purchase Barcelona water utility

Claudia Campero Arena, Meera Karunananthan, Eloi Badia protest outside the Agbar corporate headquarters in Barcelona, Spain in January 2012.

Claudia Campero Arena, Meera Karunananthan, Eloi Badia protest outside the Agbar corporate headquarters in Barcelona, Spain in January 2012.

As noted in a question in the European Parliament this past July, “The Catalonian Government is promoting a project to hand over the management and running of the drinking water supply network in the upper Barcelona metropolitan region to a private company for 50 years. The network is currently operated by the public company Aigües Ter Llobregat. The project will allow the private licence holder running the network to derive revenue from the management of water supply, treatment and purification facilities and of the Tordera river and El Prat del Llobregat desalination plants…”

Today, Elpais.com reports, “The deadline has now been reached for the bids for the privatization of Aigües Ter-Llobregat. Only Aguas de Barcelona (Agbar) confirmed the filing of its candidacy. Agbar has formed a large consortium with main partners Caisse de Depot (33%) and First State (30%) as well as Aigues de Terrassa, Aigues de Sabadell, Copisa, Acsa and Construction of Calaf.”

Agbar, comprised of more than 230 companies, is a Spanish conglomerate that sells distribution, treatment and services related to water. The Barcelona-headquartered group is present in North America, South America, Asia and Europe. In 2008, Agbar was purchased by Suez and Criteria CaixaCorp.

The Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec manages institutional funds, primarily from public and private pension and insurance funds in Québec. The largest depositor with the Caisse de dépôt appears to be the Government and Public Employees Retirement Plan of Quebec.

On September 20, Global Water Intelligence reports, “The Barcelona metropolitan area is to hand the operation of its integral water cycle for the next 35 years to a newly-created mixed company, 85% controlled by Suez-owned Agbar. Opponents say the process by which Agbar was chosen to operate water services for around 3.2 million people contravenes Spanish and EU legislation on public tendering. The Barcelona metropolitan area, however, told GWI that the mixed company is simply a ‘change of management model for an existing concession’. A 2010 court judgement ruled that Agbar, which currently supplies drinking water in 28 of the 36 municipalities covered by the Barcelona metropolitan area, has no legal concession contract to operate Barcelona’s water supply.”

While in Barcelona in January 2012, Mexico City-based Blue Planet Project organizer Claudia Campero Arena wrote, “Allies from the Asociación de Usuarios de Aguas de Saltillo (AUAS), Mexico had asked me to deliver a report to Agbar that detailed the hardship this company has brought to their city since 2001. Most notably, Aguas de Saltillo (which is a PPP with Agbar) has increased its commercial efficiency through water cutoffs to those homes that have been unable to pay their bills. In recent years, their numbers show that they disconnect nearly 30% of the users annually!”

Somewhat related, this past March in Madrid, 165,860 people voting in a popular referendum supported the continued 100 per cent public ownership of the Canal de Isabel II water utility, while just 1,227 support its proposed privatization, a 98.9 per cent vote in favour of public ownership.

The European Parliament question is at http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//TEXT+WQ+E-2012-007182+0+DOC+XML+V0//EN. The Elpais.com article (in Spanish) is at http://www.vayanoticias.com/solo-agbar-asegura-su-presencia-en-el-concurso-por-aguas-ter-llobregat/. A list of The Caisse depositors can be found at http://www.lacaisse.com/en/about-us/clients/depositors. The Global Water Intelligence article is at http://www.globalwaterintel.com/news/2012/38/re-jigged-barcelona-water-contract-causes-friction.html. Claudia Campero’s blog can be read at http://canadians.org/blog/?p=12998. A blog on the popular referendum in Madrid can be read at http://canadians.org/blog/?p=13934.