Contested Waters: The Tajo River in Spain

SituationIt is now commonly heard, that \”water is the oil of the 21st century.\” Spain seems to exemplify this issue. For decades fierce debates have occurred over the rights and access to water. More water is claimed than exists. Prolonged droughts caused by global warming will further decrease water availability and lead to widespread desertification. In the meantime the nation\’s metropolitan areas are experiencing unprecedented growth, creating higher demands on potable water than ever before.Under these circumstances, the studio will focus on the future of an internationally critical water resource: the Tajo River. The Tajo is the second largest river in Spain, stretching from the Albarracin mountains to the Atlantic Ocean at Lisbon, crossing the rapidly growing Greater Madrid Region. Its length exceeds 1,000 km and its watershed comprises an area of over 80,000 km. The Tajo is a historically important river that flows through the royal summer residence in Aranjuez (Spain\’s version of Versailles) and carves a steep canyon around the city of Toledo, the former capital of Spain and a Unesco World Heritage site today. Downstream, the Tajo passes through the center of Talavera de la Reina, – a city that will gain regional importance by a planned high speed train station. These three cities mark the southern edge of the Greater Madrid Region and currently experience an unprecedented growth. The population of the Greater Madrid Region will soon grow from six to ten million inhabitants, not only causing a massive infrastructure build-out but also putting tremendous development pressure on Aranjuez, Toledo and Talavera de la Reina.Through all of this, flows the Tajo, a river that has declined from being considered as a royal river into being a symbol of Spain\’s water problems. The majority of its water is diverted for irrigation-intensive agriculture within and beyond its watershed and for large new urbanization projects along the Mediterranean coast. At times the river\’s flow is reduced to a trickle. Although several tributaries originating in Greater Madrid replenish some of its volume, the incoming water quality is so poor that the Tajo effectively becomes an open sewer for long stretches. Despite its critical state the political battles for the Tajo\’s flow are contentious and the expanding nation continues to develop new proposals to drain the river even further.Studio ObjectiveThe studio will explore the revival of the upper Tajo River into a real \”living\” river. We will study a 120km segment between Aranjuez, Toledo and Talavera de la Reina, as the most historically important, urbanized and polluted stretch of the river. Thereby the studio will evolve around a main question: How can an open sewer be transformed into a regional asset?Studio ProcessThe studio will begin with an orientation week of problem assessment, followed by a one week field trip to Spain (September 23 to 29). After our return, the studio will explore as a group overall scenarios for the 120 km segment, including river cleaning strategies, and compare possible restoration with further decline of the river. This phase will end with a review attended by Spanish experts. In the second phase students will choose strategic locations along the river and individually (or in small groups) develop detailed design proposals at a smaller scale. In a third phase the whole group will compose the individual local proposals and the large scale scenarios to one product that will be presented in form of an exhibition and lecture in January 2008 to the ministries and agencies of the communities of Madrid and Castilla-La Mancha. The results of the studio will be published in a bilingual book.InstructorsChristian Werthmann will be the lead instructor of the studio. Carl Steinitz will teach part-time, mostly in the first and third phases of the studio. Doctoral students Stephanie H