Energy and Utilities

Water regulation updates look to streamline hydro-management in Spain

Published on 27th Sep 2023

Digitalisation and simplified administration are among measures to reform the control and management of water resources

The Royal Decree published in the Official State Gazette (BOE) on 31 August 2023 introduces modifications to various regulations, motivated in part by the water reforms envisaged in the Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plan, with a commitment to the simplification and digitalisation of water management.

Royal Decree 665/2023 of 18 July (RD 665/2023) amends the Regulation of the Public Hydraulic Domain (RDPH), the Regulation of the Public Water Administration and Royal Decree 9/2005, which establishes the list of potentially soil-polluting activities and the criteria and standards for the declaration of contaminated land.

The modifications undertaken are part of the reforms established in the Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plan (PRTR), which incorporates, within its component five called "coastal space and water resources", the mobilisation of investments to improve the control and management of the public water domain and the implementation of new information and communication technologies in water management.

Administrative simplification

One of the main aims of RD 665/2023 is to reduce the administrative burden of a multitude of small actions in the police zone and in the public water domain that until now were subject to the authorisation regime of the Consolidated Text of the Water Law, which meant delays and bureaucracy, and which will now be subject to a responsible declaration.

These actions include, for example, the felling, pruning, removal of trees, removal of debris, repair and maintenance of infrastructures, the extraction or removal of invasive species from the public water domain and even small actions for the deployment of fibre optics. Along the same lines of administrative simplification, a streamlined system is introduced for the processing of minor wastewater discharges.

The modifications include those carried out in relation to the fee for the use of public water domain assets, the accrual of which occurs with the granting of concessions and authorisations. The taxable base is determined according to whether the use or occupation of the public water domain is involved.

Use and occupation

In this regard, RD 665/2023 amends the Public Water Domain Regulations, defining the criteria for determining when a use and when an occupation takes place, as until now there was no homogeneous criterion among the water authorities.

The difference between a use and an occupation lies in whether or not the activities carried out on the watercourses and beds of the public water domain produce a significant alteration of the water transport capacity of the watercourse, its storage or its infiltration. If they do, then it is occupation, and if they do not, it is use. Furthermore, with regard to the use of the sheet of water, when the activities carried out on it prevent the use of the same by third parties, it will be considered occupation, and if they do not prevent it, it will be considered utilisation.

Digitalisation measures

With regard to the digitalisation of the control of water use, in application of the PRTE for the digitalisation of the water cycle, RD 665/2023 introduces modifications to the RDPH that involve new technological steps for its correct management.

It establishes the need to electronically communicate information on derived water related to ecological flows, on the effective control of flows in private water uses, and for wastewater discharges. This is very relevant, since even today, in many basin organisations the information on water consumption in the RDPH is still sent in paper format to the basin organisation, which makes it practically impossible to have a true knowledge of water consumption in certain parts of Spain.

Pollution and discharge protection

With regard to the protection of water against diffuse sources of pollution, RD 665/2023 revises the RDPH, introducing measures to protect groundwater, associated aquatic ecosystems, wetlands, etc.

In relation to wastewater discharges, for the first time, the procedure for assessing the damage and defining the actions to be taken when there is a specific contamination of an aquifer is established, as well as the prohibition of authorising the direct discharge of wastewater regardless of the substances it contains.

Likewise, novelties are introduced in the management of discharges due to overflowing of the sewerage system during episodes of rain in cities, which normally produce episodes of high pollution due to the washing of pollutants existing in the soil that are transported to the sewerage network.

Osborne Clarke comment

Without wishing to be exhaustive, these are some of the modifications that RD 665/2023 makes to the water regulations, carrying out an important revision of the regulations with the aim of improving the management of the integral water cycle.

Should you wish to know more about the content of RD 665/2023 or any other industry issues, please do not hesitate to contact one of our experts listed below or your usual contact at Osborne Clarke


* This article is current as of the date of its publication and does not necessarily reflect the present state of the law or relevant regulation.

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