Thursday, October 06, 2016

The Forgotten Museum Of Water

Who among you remembers the museum of water? None of you? Then let me remind you. The museum, also provisionally and variously known as the touristic-environmental or environmental and education interpretation centre, was a project hatched by the last PSOE-led administration in the Balearics. The director of the then office of analysis and forecasting of the cabinet of the president was forced to announce in December 2010 that the project to create the museum was to be "parked", meaning on hold, also meaning there wasn't the slightest intention of going ahead with it.

Not that this was how it was put. It would be a project for the following legislature, the one due to begin in June of 2011. It never of course had the remotest chance of being a project for that legislature. For starters, PSOE and what remained of its coalition (the anonymously monikered Bloc, i.e. Biel Barceló and chums) were removed from office. In came the PP, and José Ramón Bauzá set about his austerity measures. It's unlikely he ever gave the museum a moment's thought. Unlikely that anyone else did either, including PSOE.

Museums of water do exist. There's one in Rotterdam, one in Saint Petersburg. There's a museum of water and steam in Brentford, which is sort of West London. But those other museums were not the ones that had attracted the attention of the then government. They had their eyes on what had been put in Zaragoza in 2008: The Expo for Water and Sustainable Development.

The expo had cost a great deal of money. Earlier this year, an in-depth report considered the consequences of that expo. All 266 million of them. That's the debt that is outstanding. It will take the city of Zaragoza decades to ever repay it.

At the back end of 2010, the true financial disaster of the expo was only starting to become apparent. Those were times of crisis and of increasing scrutiny of grand projects that had been dreamt up by Spanish municipalities, provinces and regions when the money had never looked likely to dry up and few questions had ever been asked as to suitability or wisdom.

The Balearic government had the idea to reuse the pavilion it had at the expo. Basically, all the material from the pavilion, or most of it, was to have been used in recreating the pavilion or some other structure. Where? Well, they never really got as far as truly identifying a suitable location, though three sites in Palma were mentioned in dispatches: the Intermodal Station; the desalination plant; and the Son Pacs water distribution centre. Another place was the Parc de la Mar, which in fact had been the original intention.

The project, though, was "parked". To the best of my knowledge, it has never been raised again as a potential project. There are, however, some questions, such as what ever became of all the stuff that had gone into the making of the Balearic pavilion. Some was reused, and this was explained when the parking of the project occurred. But what of the rest, for this had been something with a total value of around two million euros which had consisted of, among other things, various audiovisual projections in what were essentially tanks. They showed, for instance, the ways in which various cultures had managed water in the Balearics - from prehistoric times to the current day.

Perhaps all the kit and various fixtures and fittings were put to good use. But as there hasn't been a peep about this project for nigh on six years, who can really say. Like the project itself, the bits and pieces for the pavilion were forgotten about.

The overall value of the pavilion plus all other costs that would have been incurred for staffing at the expo and other reasons were only a small fraction of what the expo cost Zaragoza. But in the same way as the expo had been a grandiose scheme, so participation was also grandiose. What did it achieve? Anything?

It is perhaps ironic that an expo which proclaimed sustainable development should have ended up lumbering Zaragoza with an unsustainable debt. But it, as also with what went into the expo, such as the Balearic pavilion, were from an era when accountability was all but non-existent. Now, we hope, there is accountability, and oddly enough now might be the time to reconsider the museum of water.

There is a great need to raise awareness of water use and of water as a sustainable resource. Information campaigns can do so much, but what if there were a museum, suitably all singing and dancing but with a fundamental mission to stress the importance of water to resident and tourist alike? Might the awareness be that much greater? And how would it be funded? How do you think? The tourist tax, now being spent on water.

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