Canal de Isabel II is a public company for the citizens of Madrid. What is its mission and vision?
The company's main mission is to guarantee an uncompromised water supply at all times. Our long-term vision is to develop sustainable policies, thereby making Canal de Isabel II a first-class environmental tool. We work with the complete water cycle. Beyond water treatment and its distribution, following its consumption, we regenerate it for reuse. In many cases, water is returned to rivers in order to improve their watercourse.
How has the pandemic affected Canal de Isabel II, and what is your assessment of 2020's results?
2020 was certainly a unique year, shaped by the pandemic. The turnover of Canal de Isabel II exceeds EUR850 million, whilst this year pre-tax turnover exceeds EUR300 million. We have sought to combine the investments made in the canal with voluntary social assistance for those suffering the consequences of the pandemic. We have dedicated over EUR8 million for people on furlough, those on provisional downsizing plans, businesses and industries that were forced to close down, hotels used as hospitals made available to citizens, and so on, where extraordinary assistance was established more than those they would otherwise have received.
One of the main projects in 2020 is “El Proyecto Vigía” (The Watcher Project). What does it consist of, and what are its objectives?
The Vigía system represents a significant investment in order to detect the presence of COVID-19 in wastewater. At the end of March, we dedicated many hours to collecting large amounts of information on an experiment being developed in the Netherlands. Initially, we deployed a system with experts and technicians from the canal, supported by the innovative management of Canal de Isabel II. The tools available at that time could only identify if the virus was present or not. It was a binary yes-or-no analysis, and it was not possible to run any sort of quantity analysis. Subsequently, different tools and methodologies were launched in the market that allowed us to view the virus load. We decided to run a trial experiment in Torrejón de Ardoz, which allowed us to establish the methodology for selecting the sampling points, so that they were representative of the entire population. In June 2020, we identified the now 289 sampling points that are currently active. Wastewater is collected from 100% of the population of the Community of Madrid, and, as a result, we are able to monitor the evolution of the virus across 100% of the population. Since it has been operational, we have carried out such monitoring 48 times. This has allowed us to get ahead of the virus, detect the arrival of the second and third waves, and observe its evolution by town and district. All citizens now have access to an interactive map that allows them to check this evolution in wastewater by street, town, or district. Therefore, it is possible to have a perspective of the situation through the wastewater analyses from our own homes or workplaces with weekly reports. This was presented to the EU, the management of 50 European companies, and the UN General Assembly in March 2021. That same month, the European Commission released a communication to all EU member states requesting they incorporate a wastewater monitoring system, like Vigía, by October 2021. We are 10 months ahead of the EU's request. We are pleased to have dedicated so much work and such great human resources. We invested EUR5.2 million between 2020 and 2021, and we have engaged a genomic laboratory specialized in waterways to detect the presence of COVID-19 and other types of viruses.
What are the canal's strategic plans?
We are running a total of 32 R&D&I projects. These are projects of different kinds: some are closely linked to new technologies and communication; others will allow us to improve water quality control or offer citizens transparent knowledge of water consumption in their homes. There are many other projects involving investments in infrastructures. These strategic plans and investments cover the entire lifecycle of water, from the work carried out at the reservoirs, through remote control, to the water when it reaches our homes. People will have total knowledge of their consumption, such as the times at which it is highest and lowest, and—when they are not at home—they will know if there is a possible leak and we will be notified of unusual water consumption. Beyond this, we maintain the work on our environmental policies for water regeneration.
How is your strategy to reduce debt?
Our strategy is to follow the efficient management of resources and their proper investment and use. We also focus on what creates value for the company. Innovation projects, despite the significant investment they require, reduce the cost of certain processes over time. We are creating a more efficient and citizen-oriented Canal de Isabel II every year, and we are increasing responsibility regarding water consumption.
What are the main goals of Canal de Isabel II?
We are working on three key projects. The first is to open the first green hydrogen plant in Spain that will use photovoltaic energy and regenerated water. The second is the remote meters project to be installed in all homes and industries in order to allow us to monitor water consumption in real time. Right now, meter reading takes place once every two months. Once these are installed, the population will have immediate knowledge of their own consumption and will be able to check it whenever they want via an app. The third and final project is a solar plan that involves 12 photovoltaic solar plants for the canal's self-consumption.