In Spain, the left-wing political party Podemos has recently proposed the creation of a “Banco del Agua”, a Water Bank inspired by the Dutch model. The Nederlanse Waterschapsbank was created sixty years ago to finance the water sector and other publicly owned services. Specifically, the Dutch bank arranges “short-term and long-term loans for water boards, municipal authorities, provinces, social housing, healthcare, educational institutions, Public-Private-Partnerships and activities in the field of water supply and the environment”.
The Waterschapsbank’s history is closely tied to the Dutch water boards (Waterschappen): these are regional water management bodies, some tracing their origins back as far as the 13th century, with responsibilities including the management of canals, flood prevention, water quality assurance, and wastewater treatment. Historically, these activities generated significant revenues which provided the original basis for the creation of the Nederlanse Waterschapsbank. The bank currently owns 81% of the water boards, and is a major source of loan finance for them. Nowadays, the bank funds its activities on the international money and capital markets, on the back of very high solvency ratings; but the water boards remain a core part of the institution’s make-up.
The Banco del Agua proposal from Podemos suggests use of surplus revenues from Canal de Isabel II (the public company that provides Madrid’s water supply), and funds arising from sale of the company’s assets abroad (notably in Latin America), to create a public investment bank on the Dutch model.
The proposal from Podemos is no more than a proposal at this stage, and closely tied to this party’s hard-left positions on economic and social development. Some aspects of the proposal are non-controversial: for example, Podemos argues for greater re-investment of Canal de Isabel II revenues in water supply systems in Madrid and nationally. But the proposal also suggests that the creation of a Banco del Agua will constitute “an advance in the development of concrete alternatives challenging the domination of the economic system by major corporations”, suggesting a wider political instrumentalisation of the Water Bank concept that might be a step too far for many of us.
Nonetheless, a fascinating idea which we will watch with interest!