Francisco Javier Sánchez Martínez is Deputy Director General for Water Protection and Risk Management of the Directorate General for WaterThis is a body that is part of the Secretary of State for the Environment of the Ministry for Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge.
After finishing his studies as a Forestry Technical Engineer, Public Works Technical Engineer and Environmental Sciences Graduate, and passing the competitive examinations, first in the Corps of Public Works Technical Engineers and then in the Scale of Senior Technical Experts of the Ministry of the Environment, he started working as a civil servant for the Ministry of the Environment, always related to digital issues, such as Geographic Information Systems.
He was one of the early pioneers of the Directorate General for Water in working with Geographic Information Systems (GIS), e.g. the inventory of dams and their link to the geoportal in 2001. He has worked on dam safety issues, flood zone mapping and the implementation of the national flood zone mapping system (SNCZI). With the latest restructuring of the Ministry, in which the Directorate General for Water became responsible for hydrology and management of the Automatic Hydrological Information Systems (SAIH), he manages all the non-urban public digitalisation of the water cycle. Because of all this experience, its director, Teodoro Estrela, entrusted them with the conception, organisation and management of the PERTE de Digitalización del Ciclo del Agua (Water Cycle Digitalisation PERTE).
How long has the Directorate General for Water been in existence? And how many professionals work in it?
In reality, it has existed since the Ministries were formed, first called the Directorate General of Hydraulic Works, then renamed the Directorate General of Hydraulic Works and Water Quality, and then the Directorate General of Water, which employs between 150 and 200 staff.
How long has MITECO been working with Geographic Information Systems?
We started working with geographic information in 1998, when we acquired the first ArcInfo licences and published the first geoportal in 2000. Today we work with both ArcGIS and QGIS.
What powers does it have vis-à-vis the confederations?
Although the confederations are autonomous entities, a large part of the actions are agreed with them, and the Directorate General for Water is the one that finances the actions and the hydrological plans, as well as planning and coordinating these actions with the confederations.
What does digitisation mean for the Water Directorate General?
It means knowledge and transparency.
For example, the first successful case of digitisation was the publication of the yearbook of gauges in 1911, with the great advance it meant in terms of having the information immediately available to any user on the flow rates of the rivers in Spain.
What is the current state of digitalisation of the water sector in Spain? What has this digitalisation been like? Is it homogeneous? Where and why are there differences in the sector?
The state is uneven. Not all areas and territories are at the same level. Each territory and the different administrations have evolved little by little, in a heterogeneous way depending on the budget, problems and concerns of each body, reaching a series of natural and asymmetrical milestones in each region.
For example, in the north of Spain, digitalisation has traditionally advanced more in wastewater discharges, given that they suffer problems in this regard, due to the large amount of water resources that existed before the impact of climate change, while in the south it has advanced more on the supply side and the resource of clean water, due to its scarcity.
Each region will therefore invest more effort in those parts of the water cycle where it is most needed, based on its particular requirements.
The main factor favouring digitalisation has been the possibility to work and remotely manage many territorial areas from home without the need to travel?
What are the major benefits of digitisation?
The first is transparency. The second is savings. Because everything that is not measured, is not accounted for and is not valued. When we know what we are spending, we automatically start to save, which is very relevant when it comes to water.
What difficulties are there for progress in this regard?
In the administrations, change is complicated, mainly in the contracting model, due to the internal brakes that the administration has, as we were used to tendering a project, finishing it and receiving it. Therefore, the models change, the internal IT structure, which must be adapted, whereas now we have to go to the cloud, the current servers are no longer useful, and therefore the way of contracting is changing, which increases the internal friction.
And externally, the contracting itself, which is different, as it contracts a technology or a service for years, and it is not the type of service that was put out to tender, so it is complicated to explain to the financial controllers, for example, or to those responsible for the computer systems, with new knowledge that has to be incorporated; to this is added the lack of personnel, as the professionals who hold the knowledge have a lot of work and there is a certain collapse in their activities.
How can institutions support this digitalisation and is PERTE an appropriate driver for this digital transformation?
Well, with a multitude of projects, such as the PERTE water cycle, which is favouring digitalisation at all levels. In fact, after the pandemic, all administrations are turning to digitalisation to facilitate the development of remote work.
What external factors have favoured this digitisation?
The main factor has been the possibility of working and remotely managing many territorial areas from home without the need to travel. In addition, the possibility of being able to operate an infrastructure from a workstation without having to be there makes it an enormously useful tool, breaks down barriers and borders and is the closest thing there is to teleportation. The circumstances are ripe for transformation and savings.
We should all have the water app on our mobile phones and it should be a tool that allows us to distinguish between those users who manage water well and those who still don't, rewarding those who do?
What does the Water Directorate General foresee in the future of the digitalisation of the water cycle?
We are going to try to work as hard as possible to promote the care of this resource and improve its management through knowledge of the water cycle. Everything that happens to water will be known, from catchment in rivers and aquifers, the use of water in the city, discharges in real time, with data on volume, flow, characteristics and quality, days of rain, what has been collected in drainage systems, what has been treated and released into the environment, the circulating flows of all watercourses in a single centralised web site in real time, connection with AEMET to have seasonal and weekly forecasts. In the field of irrigation, all irrigators will be provided with information on the resource they have, what they are using, as well as on the excess nitrogen, phosphorous and pesticides discharged into the environment, and in the field of industry, so that they have greater guarantees about the quality of the water they are going to collect.
We want a fully 21st century management model, so the plan must help to bring as many water users as possible into the 21st century, given that the water cycle management has not reached everyone equally.
In smartphones we are missing the water application, which is the one we don't have yet. We should be able to have the urban cycle, the consumption of water in our homes and that it reaches the large operators, as well as being available to irrigation users and owners of its use.
We should all have this application on our mobile phones and it should be a tool that allows us to distinguish between those users who manage water well and those who still do not. Rewarding those who do.
It is a very holistic and inclusive idea, so that we can all participate in the water cycle according to our capabilities and individual or corporate responsibility.