Everything you need to know about tap water in Barcelona
When you first arrive in Barcelona, you have a lot on your mind. The last thing you want to worry about is your tap water (agua del grifo), so have no fear. We can help answer some of your most pressing questions about Barcelona’s water so you know what to expect before arrival. If you are already in Barcelona, this guide can also help address anything you already noticed during your time here.
You may have also noticed a lot of talk about the drought in Spain. This impacts where you get your water from and how it is used. You may have noticed that the decorative fountains in your favorite parks are no longer running, or that you can no longer use the fountains at the beach to wash the sand off your feet. All of this is a result of the ongoing drought, and we can help you understand how this impacts you.
Water in Barcelona
Where does Barcelona's water come from?
Water has been a scarce resource in Barcelona for hundreds of years. People got their water from public fountains and communal wells, and you may still see reminders of this time when you look at the many water towers around Barcelona.
Up until 1986, when Spain joined the European Union, the country had a bad reputation for its poor tap water quality. After joining the EU, Spain received billions of euros to invest in its water infrastructure. Now, it has one of the most advanced water systems in the world.
Barcelona has two main sources where it gets its water: rivers and the Mediterranean Sea. The primary river Barcelona uses for its water supply is the Llobregat River, which flows into the Mediterranean south of the city. All of the water goes through an intense sanitation and de-salting process before it makes its way throughout the city for public use.
Spain’s investment in water infrastructure did not begin in the 1980s, however. Since the 1950s, Spain has built dams and systems to try to make water shortages less common. There are now 1,200 artificial dams and reservoirs throughout the country, which is more than anywhere else in Europe. The Llobregat water plant that is now so important for finding drinking water was built in 2009 but was barely used until April 2021.
Before the most recent and most intense phase of the drought, Barcelona’s drinking water came primarily from rivers, and wells were the second most common source. Water from the water plant provided just 3% of the drinking water supply. Now, the plant is the source of one-third of Barcelona’s drinking water, wells are still the second most common source but have decreased in use, and rivers are the smallest source.
Is the tap water in Barcelona safe to drink?
Yes! Barcelona has some of the highest quality drinking water in the world. The Ministerio de Sanidad assess all of Spain’s drinking water, and the agency has determined that tap water in Barcelona is safe to drink unfiltered, according to EU and World Health Organization standards.
This means you can drink the water out of your home tap, but what about public tap water? On hikes and walks through parks, you will notice drinking fountains scattered around public spaces. This water is also safe to drink, and often you will find taps for dogs, as well, so the whole family can enjoy the public drinking fountains! There is even an app to help you find fountains close to you: Fonts BCN.
Despite being completely safe to drink, Barcelona’s water does have an unpleasant taste and smell for some people, especially if you are used to water in other countries.
The chlorine in the water is the main reason for the distinct taste of Barcelona water. In order to filter out the salt, dirt and microorganisms from the water — which happens in the same water plant we have mentioned throughout this guide — chlorine gets put into the water. It is safe to drink, but can create a strong, unpleasant taste.
Besides chlorine, there are also high levels of minerals like potassium and magnesium in the water because of the water’s journey before it gets to your sink. The water passes through rocks in rivers that are very high in these minerals.
Although you may not have known about these minerals before, your hair and skin have likely noticed. The high mineral content in Barcelona’s water makes the water very hard, which is why many people struggle with hair and skin problems, including dryness, when they arrive in Barcelona. Hard water also makes it harder for your laundry detergent to clean clothes, so you may have to use more soap than you are used to.
Microplastics are found in 80% of all the tap water in Europe, and Barcelona is no exception. The water sanitization system does filter out microplastics and any sediment, but as more plastic and rubbish flows into the world’s major water sources, the problem of microplastic contamination will continue.
Pipe contaminations are also a concern for many people because the pipes in Barcelona can be old, so it is important to make sure the pipes are regularly checked in your building.
What are the alternatives to tap water?
If the taste of the water in Barcelona is a barrier for you, there are plenty of alternative options in the city.
What is happening with the water shortage?
There is a water shortage in Barcelona because of a years-long drought in Spain, but the drought has especially struck Catalonia. The current drought is the worst Catalonia has seen in 100 years. The lack of rainfall is especially affecting agriculture in Catalonia’s countryside, but the effects are present in Barcelona, as well.
If the drought conditions do not improve, the Catalonia Water Agency may move the northeast region of Spain into an emergency phase for the Llobregat River in September. As of May, the river is at 27% of its capacity. Usually, rains in April help to refill the water reservoirs and wells that have now run out, but April 2023 was the driest month yet, and the lack of rain has caused water reserves to run low.
How the Water Shortage is Possible
Despite having one of the most advanced water filtration systems in the world and investing billions of dollars in water management, Spain and especially Catalonia continue to struggle with water shortages.
Climate change is an easy factor to point to, but it is not the only problem. Farmers use 80% of Spain’s freshwater and have faced some of the harshest restrictions during drought protocols, hurting their ability to grow crops.
What is the government doing about the water supply?
Current water management systems are not yet ready to manage the pressures that climate change has put on Barcelona’s water supply, although there have been significant advancements.
The Catalan Water Agency will receive 2.5 billion euros from the Catalan government to double water production and filtration. The number of water production plants throughout the autonomous region will double and will allow the water agency to put more of its resources into increasing the water supply despite limited rainfall.
The Barcelona City Council also has a Climate Emergency Declaration, which aims to decrease the amount of drinking water used, increase the use of alternative water sources like regenerated water, make the city more flood-resistant through better drainage and protect the water sources by reducing contamination and spilling.
What does this mean for residents?
In March 2023, the Catalan Water Agency put restrictions on water usage across industries. Agriculture use had to be reduced by 40%, industrial use had to be reduced by 15%, and the average daily limit per person in a municipality was reduced from 250 to 230 litres. This limit includes public projects, not just individual use, which uses up 103 litres of that limit on its own. If the region further implements an emergency plan, that limit would decrease to 200 litres per person, per day. This limit is put on cities not only for residents’ personal use but also for public services, including street cleaning and fountains.
The current stage — Stage 3: Exceptionality — of the drought alert protocol limits water usage for services like green spaces (both public and private), decorative fountains, swimming pools, and street and vehicle cleaning. The Catalan government approved a law that would fine municipalities for going over the water usage limit.
Residents are prohibited from washing their cars with anything except a bucket and sponge for windows and mirrors. Swimming pools cannot be filled, and sports fields cannot be watered over 450 cubic metres per hectare per month.
Street cleaning services have moved from 80% groundwater usage to 100% groundwater, which will lessen the disruption of sanitised water. Water and jet pipes in fountains are prohibited but artificial ponds may continue using just enough water to maintain aquatic life.