Catalan Water Research Institute research and innovation for the sustainable use of water

The Samba Hotel in Lloret de Mar celebrates ten years as an ICRA test laboratory, dedicated to evaluating innovative water-saving technologies

Tuesday, 18 October 2022

– The aim of the research is to ensure that tourism requires less drinking water, a scarce commodity that is currently being wasted.

– The Catalan Water Research Institute (ICRA) has implemented four projects to improve water management with more efficient technologies.

– The Samba Hotel in Lloret de Mar, where the research projects are carried out, was already a pioneer in Europe in sustainable practices.

​In a Mediterranean that is increasingly touristic, improving water management becomes essential. Ten years ago, the Catalan Water Research Institute (ICRA) started a pioneering initiative to contribute to improving water management within the tourism sector, based on the idea that, only if it is sustainable, the tourism may continue to be one of the country’s main economic activities.

Save water and save tourism

According to ICRA, water consumption per tourist is up to four times greater than that of a permanent resident, since indirect consumption is also taken into account: swimming pools, gardens, golf courses, spas, etc. Undoubtedly, tourist activities in the Mediterranean are a stressor for water resources, especially during the summer months.

In order to ensure that tourism activity requires less drinking water, a scarce commodity, in the last 10 years the ICRA has carried out a series of research projects on the ground, in real facilities open to the public. The hotel that decided to collaborate on the project was the Samba , a resort with swimming pool that was built in 1972 and has 433 rooms, a restaurant and 7,252 m² of green areas. Located in Lloret de Mar and with three stars, Hotel Samba had already been the first in Europe to obtain the ISO 14001 (1997) and EMAS (1998) certificates for its good practices in water optimization, home automation in meters , LED lighting or recycling and waste management, among other sustainable habits.

A pioneer hotel in the separation of gray water

In fact, the hotel had a gray water separation system since 1998. The water generated in bathtubs and toilets is collected in a tank to be treated and reused in the toilet cisterns and up to 15,000 m³ can be reused a year. It is an ecologically sustainable practice (reduces the demand for drinking water) and economically (results in significant savings on the water bill). Hotel Samba was, therefore, an example of water management in tourist accommodation in the area. Even so, the projects carried out by ICRA have shown that it was still possible to go further in the use of water.

The four ICRA projects at the Samba hotel

The first thing that was put into practice in this tourist facility was the European project demEAUmed . Its aim was to create an optimal and safe closed water cycle through integrated innovative technologies. For this project, the vertECO system (from the Austrian company Alchemia-nova ) was installed on the terrace of the hotel bar.

This system, which is currently still installed in the hotel, is a wetland where different interactions occur between water, plants and the medium of support. The vertECO wetland has the capacity to purify gray water and has shown a very good performance for treating it, which can be reused to irrigate the green areas of the hotel or for the laundry.

The demEAUmed project, with a duration of three years and 15 partners from seven countries, integrated eight leading technologies for the treatment and reuse of the different waste water streams that are generated in the hotel (toilet water, laundry, showers, swimming pool , etc.), along with the advanced monitoring of quality parameters and water consumption.

The next research program with Hotel Samba was the CLEaN-TOUR, a four-year national project that sought to evaluate gray water treatment with a combination of membrane systems and constructed wetlands . In this case, in addition to including ornamental plants, edible plants were introduced. With this approach, in addition to managing to treat gray water for reuse, vegetables are obtained that can be consumed within the hotel itself. A new step to increase circularity and sustainability within the hotel.

The third project in which ICRA participated with pilot tests at the tourist facility of Lloret de Mar was SUGGEREIX , promoted and financed mostly by the Catalan Water Agency (ACA) and led by the technology center Eurecat. Its purpose was to generate knowledge to improve management strategies for reused water.

Finally, ICRA’s most recent project with Hotel Samba as its setting has been ReUseMP3 , funded by the Spanish State Research Agency and the Ministry of Science and Innovation. It was about evaluating the feasibility of nature-based solutions for water treatment, so that it can be reused directly. This project analyzes the pollutants that may be present in the water (drugs, pesticides, microplastics, etc.) Gianluigi Buttiglieri , ICRA researcher who works with issues of circular economy and solutions based on nature, comments that “it is important to evaluate both the efficiency of the solutions used and the impact of these types of organic micropollutants, present to reused water, for the environment and human health.”

The ICRA team involved in the different research projects of the Samba Hotel is made up of Gianluigi Buttiglieri and Sara Rodriguez-Mozaz, ICRA researchers specialized respectively in treatment and reuse technologies and in Environmental Chemistry; Joaquim Comas, full professor at the University of Girona, member of the LEQUIA research group and senior researcher attached to the Evaluation and Technologies area of ​​the ICRA, Esther Mendoza and Josephine Vosse, predoctoral researchers at ICRA, and Lucas Alonso, postdoctoral researcher at ICRA, among other researchers.

Improve decision-making in water management

The results of the four ICRA research projects will be used to create decision-support tools when it comes to promoting the reuse of water in other Mediterranean tourism scenarios, essential to contribute to a more sustainable tourism where water management is responsible and efficient and consistent with the current context of climate change and water scarcity.

For Esther Mendoza, pre-doctoral researcher at ICRA, who has focused her doctoral thesis on the treatment of gray water with membrane systems and constructed wetlands: “there is still a lot of work to be done, but thanks to the research and the involvement of companies like the Samba Hotel can contribute to more sustainable tourism and promote practices that can be carried out in other tourist facilities in the Mediterranean area”.

About the Catalan Water Research Institute (ICRA)

ICRA is a multidisciplinary water research center created on October 26, 2006, by the government of the Generalitat de Catalunya. In addition, it is a CERCA center attached to the UdG and has the impetus of its patrons: the Department of Research and Universities, the Catalan Water Agency (ACA) and the University of Girona (UdG).

It is an international point of reference that is committed to the research of the integral cycle of water, in terms of water resources, water quality, in the broadest sense of the word (chemical, microbiological, ecological, etc.) and technologies of treatment and evaluation and the transfer of this knowledge to society and the business and industrial fabric.

The research carried out there refers to all aspects related to water, especially those related to its rational use and the effects of human activity on water resources.