Starting today FCC is working on decontaminating the portion of the Ebro River that flows past Flix, Tarragona. This is a high-priority operation involving the eradication of over a century’s worth of toxic waste dumped into the Ebro by local industry. The timetable anticipates that it will take two years and eight months to get the job done.
Spanish Secretary of State for the Environment Federico Ramos and the head of the Catalan Land and Sustainability Department, Santi Vila i Vicente, visited the site today to see how the decontamination work was progressing. They were accompanied by Jordi Sierra Viu, who is the central government’s assistant deputy in Tarragona, Mayor Marc Mur of Flix and the mayors of several of the riverside cities and towns located downstream of Flix.
The 165-million-euro Flix Reservoir decontamination project draws 30% of its funding from the Spanish government and 70% from the European Union Cohesion Fund. There is furthermore a Land Restitution Plan associated with the project, whose aim it is to provide compensation for the people affected by the work. This associated plan entails another 57 million euros’ investment, split between the national government (36 million) and the Catalan government (21 million), making for a total investment of over 200 million euros, the biggest investment ever for a decontamination project in Spain, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and the Environment.
The project was awarded by Acuamed (a company owned by the national government and operated by the Ministry of the Environment) to a joint venture combining FCC Construcción with FCC Ámbito in 2008. It is the only project of its type in the world. At issue is the extraction, treatment and elimination of contaminated sludge and the restoration of the Ebro River and its ecosystem.
The sludge will be removed and treated in a process that will end with the restoration of the river water to its natural condition. The first step taken was to create a safe treatment location. A double wall 1.3 kilometres long was built to separate the worksite from the riverbed. The worksite was further isolated with the construction of a secant pile wall on the right bank.
The stage now commencing calls for the extraction of about 960,000 cubic metres of sludge contaminated with heavy metals, organochlorides and a certain amount of radioactive elements. This sludge has built up along about 1,100 metres of factory wall and extends some 150 metres out into the river. It will be removed by an ecological dredging procedure and treated in the plants that have been set up nearby.
The treatment process will begin with wet sorting, where the materials will be separated and classified. Next the silt will be dehydrated. This dried material will be shipped to a warehouse where it will be stored and sampled so the appropriate treatment can be determined. Meanwhile, all the water dredged out of the river and extracted during the treatment process will go to a water treatment plant, after which it will be returned to the protected area. Eventually all the material will be shipped to a landfill 8 kilometres away that has been built specifically for this project.
The project includes a series of additional operations, such as the preparation of an emergency water supply for the cities and towns downriver from Flix (a preventive measure in the event of contamination) and protection of the Sebes Nature Reserve, which lies on the bank opposite the factory. A fully equipped analytical laboratory has been set up to track the work throughout all its different phases, an essential part of monitoring the effectiveness of the work being done.
When the sludge treatment process has been completed, the Ebro River will again be as nature intended.
The entire project is hedged about with guarantees. The safety of the local population is triply ensured: by the safety measures set in the project design, by a series of regular checks run by the Ebro River Hydrographic Confederation and the Catalan Water Agency, and lastly by the emergency plan okayed on 14 February last by the civil protection authorities, who gave it top marks.
This decontamination project will improve the quality of the river’s water. The Ebro provides drinking water for over a million people and irrigation for more than 50,000 hectares of land. It also creates the Ebro River Delta, a protected area and natural park.
Decontaminating the Flix Reservoir has been declared an urgent, high-priority project of general interest. The project adheres to the principles of the A.G.U.A. Programme, whose initials in Spanish stand for “Actions for Water Management and Use”. The programme includes actions to improve water management and water supplies in accordance with existing and future needs linked to sustainable land development.
To optimise coordination and speed of response, all the institutions, councils, cities and towns related with the project were informed of the plan’s contents in detail in February. Acuamed also started a web site, www.decontaminationflix.com, where updated reports are posted whenever there are developments. These reports provide all the details on the project’s progress. No other project in the world is this huge in scope, with the same innovative features and strict safety rules. Another of the web site’s objectives is to explain the ins and outs of the decontamination project, since it has piqued the interest of experts the world over and the international scientific community. Accordingly, the page is available in Catalan, Spanish and English, and, because of the work’s impact, the page will be translated into Chinese as well in just a few weeks.
This will make www.decontaminationflix.com a showcase for Spanish technology aimed at one of the most important markets in the decontamination sector.