Urban drainage in Barcelona: From hazard to resource?

David Saurí
Departament de Geografia, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Bellaterra (Barcelona), Spain david.sauri@uab.cat

Laura Palau-Rof
Departament de Geografia, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Bellaterra (Barcelona), Spain laupalau@gmail.com

ABSTRACT: Our objective in this paper is to trace the historical trajectory of urban drainage in Barcelona from the 19th century to the present highlighting the main changes in approach, from the 'everything down the drain' philosophy of the 19th century to the sustainable urban drainage systems of the early 21st century. In this trajectory we identify four main historical periods. The first period corresponds to the 'Garcia Faria Plan' of the late 19th century which initiated the construction of modern drainage in Barcelona. The second period, lasting for much of the 20th century, showed the expansion of the centralised sewer system that, however, could not solve the chronic problems of flooding and pollution created by fast urbanisation. The third period, governed by the Olympic Games of 1992 and the rehabilitation of the beach front, entailed a massive reconfiguration of the sewer system now connected to wastewater treatment plants and enhanced with a number of large underground stormwater reservoirs. Finally, since the early 2000s, urban drainage is increasingly adopting decentralised, small-scale solutions to drainage such as Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems (SUDS). While signs of the transition towards a more sustainable approach to urban drainage are already present, the conventional approach remains strong and appears to be evolving also towards more sustainable solutions. Hence, system coexistence rather than substitution appears to be the outcome of the transition in urban drainage in this city.

KEYWORDS: Urban drainage, history, security, sustainability, Barcelona