Home Database Case studies Zaragoza: combining awareness raising and financial measures to enhance water efficiency
Case studies

Zaragoza: combining awareness raising and financial measures to enhance water efficiency

Zaragoza: combining awareness raising and financial measures to enhance water efficiency

The Zaragoza Water Saving City programme was initiated in 1996 in response to water scarcity. It included awareness raising campaigns, the implementation of examples of good practice and voluntary public commitments by citizens and businesses. The water tariffs were revised to provide disincentives and incentives that ensure a full cost recovery whilst maintaining affordability for low income households. The programme also involved improvements to the water distribution infrastructure to reduce the waste of water. After 15 years the city achieved a reduction of water consumption by almost 30%, mainly due to changes in water use behaviour and is now known throughout the world as a leader in the field of water conservation. The city participated in the SWITCH project (Sustainable Water Management Improves Tomorrow’s Cities’ Health; 2006-2011) to further reinforce the commitment of the city to manage its water resources sustainably.


Case Study Description


Zaragoza is the fifth largest city in Spain and the capital of the Autonomous Community of Aragón, with a population of around 700.000 inhabitants. This is a semi-arid region with an average annual precipitation of only 314 mm, most of which falls during the cold winters. Consequently, water shortage is a serious issue for the municipality. This was made obvious in the early 1990s when a prolonged drought resulted in water restrictions that caused public anger and political fallout at a national scale. In the future, the number of consecutive dry days is projected to increase significantly in southern and central Europe, in particular in summer, thus possibly exacerbating the problem of water scarcity.


The city of Zaragoza decided to take action addressing the water management to satisfy the needs of the developing economy and the future demands of a growing population (the population of Zaragoza is projected to reach one million shortly after 2020.). To do so, the city moved away from continued exploitation of limited resources to curbing water demand and limiting the leakage from the distribution networks. Water scarcity, particularly a drought in the early 1990s, has been an important consideration, but financial and economic considerations were also drivers.


Following water shortages in the mid-1990s, the municipality of Zaragoza increased its water supply and managed demand by developing a “water saving culture”. The Municipal Strategic Plan 1996-2010 set out an ambition objective to reduce total city water consumption from 84.7 Mm3 in 1995 to 65 Mm3 by 2010. A municipal Water Commission was established by the City Council in 1996 to oversee the implementation of a range of ambitious long-term water saving initiatives. The Zaragoza Water Saving City programme was initiated in 1996 by the NGO Fundación Ecologica y Desarollo (FED) with the municipality support. The programme was implemented through the following phases:

  • Phase 1: “Small steps, big solutions”; A widespread awareness-raising campaign to reduce water consumption within homes, public buildings and commercial activity through behavioural change and water saving technology.
  • Phase 2: “50 good practices”; The implementation of 50 examples of water efficient technologies and practices in parks, gardens, public buildings and industry to demonstrate performance and encourage uptake on a wider scale throughout the city.
  • Phase 3: “School for efficient water use”; The dissemination of pocket guides among the city’s major water consuming sectors describing the good water saving practices identified in Phase 2.
  • Phase 4: ‘100,000 commitments’ – The invitation of citizens and businesses to make online public commitments to save water in time for the International Expo "Water and Sustainable Development" which opened in Zaragoza in June 2008.

Another initiative to reduce water consumption in the city included a review of the water tariffs structure to make it more equitable and demand-responsive, with the aim of achieving full cost recovery through revenues, including the direct costs of service provision as well as indirect costs within the water cycle more generally. This was done through:

  • equitable charging, ensuring that the cost of water is related to the benefits it delivers to the user;
  • affordable access to basic water services for all, including the availability of subsidies for vulnerable households (pensioners, unemployed, large families);
  • an incentive for the consumer to use water efficiently, in the form of water bill discounts rewarding households that were able to reduce their annual water consumption by 10% or more;
  • penalising excessive consumption with higher prices.

The final part of the programme was targeting leakages from the city’s aging water supply pipelines. Considerable investments were made in controlling water losses, including rehabilitation of the pipeline network (189 km from the 1,246 km of the network have been renovated), pressure management controls and much needed maintenance to leaking storage tanks in the basements of apartment buildings.

The results of this comprehensive campaign reduced the water consumption from 180 litres per capita per day (lpcd) in 1980, through 136 lpcd in 2000, to just under 100 lpcd in 2010. In terms of the overall water savings, the city exceeded its own target: in 2009 total water consumption was 59.9 Mm3. Thus, 15 years after the start of the campaign, the city achieved a reduction of water consumption by almost 30 %, despite a 12 % population increase in the same time. In response to these achievements, new goals have been set that aim to reduce per capita consumption of potable water in the city to 90 litres per person per day and overall consumption to 58 Mm3 per year by 2015.

The bulk of the achievements were due to changes in water use behaviour, largely brought about through the awareness-raising and promotional activities. As early as the first phase of the Water Saving City programme, the percentage of citizens aware of potential water saving measures had risen from 40% to 72%. Other initiatives such as the control of leakage from the water supply distribution network also played a part. Between 2000 and 2010, the number of pipe bursts reduced from 750 to 350 in 2010, and losses from the system as a whole were reduced by over 40%, meaning that almost 20 Mm3 of water were saved each year. The review of tariffs was less influential in reducing the water consumption but nonetheless had a large economic impact on water services. Whereas in 1997 income from water consumers covered around 70% of the cost of supply and wastewater disposal, the equivalent figure in 2006 was closer to 90%; well on the way to achieving the goal of full cost recovery. This has allowed much-needed investment to be in made water services infrastructure, particularly wastewater treatment.

The results allow to conclude that combining changes in water use behaviour, water efficiency technology and reduced leakage can generate sufficient savings to make new and costly water supply infrastructure unnecessary. It also made the City of Zaragoza more resilient to future droughts and water scarcity associated with climate change.


Case mainly developed and implemented because of other policy objectives, but with significant consideration of CCA aspects

Additional Details

Stakeholder Participation

The goal of reducing water use by all types of consumers required the cooperation of a wide range of stakeholders. The stakeholders participating in the initiative included the City of Zaragoza, the Zaragoza Water Commission, which itself is made up of representatives of different municipal departments, citizen groups, organised civil society and other stakeholders, non-governmental organisations (Ecology and Development Foundation, the Foundation for a New Water Culture (FNCA) and the San Valero Foundation), businesses and local residents. Working closely with stakeholder representatives allowed the identification of realistic and acceptable water conservation measures and took advantage of existing channels of communication to reach out to members of the different target groups. Providing citizens with the information, means and incentives to actively commit themselves to saving water raised awareness about the benefits of contributing to the overall conservation goals of the city.

Success and Limiting Factors

The success of this approach appears to have largely depended on the implementation of the following actions:

  • Working directly with stakeholder representatives.
  • The establishment of a central coordination unit: rather than being a collection of fragmented, individual initiatives, the setting up of the Zaragoza Water Commission provided effective coordination of consultation, implementation and evaluation of the different activities, with the aim of achieving a common goal.
  • Encouraging public participation: domestic water consumption was identified as a key area where significant water savings could be made and this drove the involvement of the local residents in the work of the Water Commission.
  • Targeting specific sectors: instead of promoting generic water saving messages, awareness-raising activities targeted specific user groups with information that was directly relevant for their business or lifestyle. The production of dissemination guides for different consumer types also resulted in explicit benefits and incentives of reduced water use to be clearly outlined and promoted.
  • Leading by example: high-use groups and the general public were likely to ignore awareness-raising campaigns if they felt that the authorities responsible for water were not equally committed to improving their own performance. By providing an efficient and reliable water and wastewater service, businesses and residents were more inclined to contribute themselves.
  • Gaining political commitment: key stakeholder consultation and public participation to reduce water consumption in Zaragoza was specifically mentioned in the municipal strategic plan, with the implementation of many activities taking place through Local Agenda 21 commissions. A supportive city council allowed policy commitments to be made, increased the availability of funding and provided the means to generate public pride in the city’s achievement through events such as Expo ‘08.

Participation of the city in the following projects was also relevant:

  • "SWITCH - Sustainable Water Management Improves Tomorrow’s Cities’ Health", undertaking innovation in the area of integrated urban water management in 12 cities across the globe to further reinforce the commitment of the city to manage its water resources sustainably.
  • Optimizagua - a Reference Model for the Efficient Management of Water (LIFE 2003 ENV/E/000164) shortlisted as best environment project by the EC.
  • Aquanet (ES/07/LLP-LdV/TOI/149053), which resulted in a guidebook for an efficient water management.
Costs and Benefits

The approximate cost of the public awareness campaigns between 2002 - 2010 is around 2,500,000 euros.

The Municipality is developing and applying municipal bylaws, assuming the principles of the Guideline 98/83/CE included in the Spanish law through the  RD140/2003 in relation to the municipal jurisdiction. The Municipal bylaw for Water Saving and Efficiency was passed in February 2011 and it guides the future plans for water saving:

  • Total consumption of water in the city from the current 60 million m3/year to under 58 million m3/year, taking into account the increase in the population.
  • Home consumption down to 90 litres/person/day.
  • Total consumption per capita down to 200 litres/person/day through more efficient municipal water use and reduction in the services sector.
Implementation Time

Start in 1996 - on-going.

Reference Information


Victor Bueno
Agencia de Medio Ambiente y Sostenibilidad
Ayuntamiento de Zaragoza
Casa Jiménez, 5
50004 Zaragoza, Spain
Tel: +34 976 724219
E-mail: vbueno@zaragoza.es 

SWITCH (Sustainable Water Management Improves Tomorrow Cities Health) project

Published in Climate ADAPT Jun 07 2016   -   Last Modified in Climate ADAPT Mar 04 2020

Please contact us for any other enquiry on this Case Study or to share a new Case Study (email climate.adapt@eea.europa.eu)

Document Actions