La Vallesa de Mandor is a majestic construction dating back to the 18th century surrounded by orange groves and gardens that once served as accommodation for personalities such as the Spanish king Alfonso XIII. A better setting could not have been found for the inauguration of the successful GUARDIAN project, which started sharply at 11h.
The expectation was high from the very beginning, especially that of the media that were anxiously looking for the faces and first impressions of different members of the consortium (Figure 1).
The speeches were smoothly introduced by Sandra Pascual, the person in charge of external communications of the Riba-roja City council, who opened the event:
Today we culminate an adventure that began to take shape in March 2018 with great enthusiasm and convinced at that time that it would be a very important project for the environmental future of this land
Sandra gave the floor to Vicente Adobes, the manager and leader of the GUARDIAN workforce who summarized the main milestones of the project. He reviewed the overall idea of the smart use of reclaimed water to fight fires combined with the innovative fuel management approach developed in the project, the green firebreaks, in wildland-urban interface (WUI) areas with high fire risk:
This is a wonderful area, an ideal natural beauty spot to live in, but at the same time, a place with high risk of wildfires. Fires are more and more frequent and virulent. We have many residential areas literally attached to the forest, what we call the wildland-urban interface
Vicente also highlighted the role and suitability of every partner within the GUARDIAN project and went through the main activities undertaken within the project implementation phase: planning and calculation of hydraulic infrastructure, installation of the water canyons, design and development of the irrigation patterns, fuel management, etc.
Following, it was the turn of UIA Project Officer Tommaso Galli, who, together with Romain Turminel, spent a few days in Riba-roja with the mission of doing a site visit to see the results of the project and catch-up with all key actors. He highlighted two main challenges that GUARDIAN has overcome. The first one being that, in 3 years and 6 months, the consortium has brought the project to fruition overcoming all the complexities from the administrative point of view and those due to the COVID situation. The second one has to do with the size of Riba-roja and Paterna: GUARDIAN has shown that two small municipalities can successfully run complex projects:
The lesson that I’ll bring back to Brussels is that small cities can really make it!
Tommaso also brought our attention to the future, reminding that the project has to receive proper financial and political sustainability, and that results have to be disseminated to help replicating the solution elsewhere. He finally encouraged to keep an eye on future UIA calls; since Riba-roja and Paterna have done a good job once, why not giving them a second chance?
Next, the mayor of Riba-roja, Robert Raga, made an emotional speech focussed on the origin of GUARDIAN. He recalled with pride and happiness that GUARDIAN was born from the conviction (from the very first day in office!) that Riba-roja had to be aligned with the sustainable development goals, particularly with those dealing with climate change. Linking water management with circular economy principles was a priority of his political program and, inspired by a final degree project of environmental sciences developed by Carles Pardo in 2015 at Universitat de València (UV), Robert and his office come up with the right ideas to close the water cycle at Riba-roja. They started to foresee new uses for the Camp de Túria II treatment plant water outlet: why not think of reclaiming water to be used for agricultural purposes, for increasing ecosystem’s quality in water ponds and for fighting fires at the same time? These ideas brainstormed by a bright student have now become a reality.
Riba-roja mayor also shared his memories of the first meeting in Brussels in which all UIA 3d call granted projects were convened: the name of Riba-roja and Paterna was announced together with the names of several world’s greatest cities: Paris, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Sevilla, etc. What an honour!
His speech ended with an acknowledgement to all GUARDIAN partners and to the UIA funding agency, with an explicit mention to the current war situation in Ukraine:
Seeing the ignominy of what is happening in Ukraine, I thought of Europe. I thought about how important it is to be more Europe. Without Europe, GUARDIAN would not have been possible
In his turn, the mayor of Paterna, Juan Antonio Sagredo, added that GUARDIAN has shown the value of public-private collaboration in the management and execution of environmental projects, emphasizing that the benefits of GUARDIAN in La Vallesa have repercussions throughout the metropolitan area. Juan Antonio said proudly that thanks to GUARDIAN:
Our towns are listed at the forefront of hydraulic firefighting infrastructure worldwide
Lastly, the regional secretary of Safety and Emergencies, José María Ángel, directed some words of congratulations and thanks, acknowledging the leadership and passion of both Riba-roja and Paterna mayors. José María recalled the severe wildfire that occurred in the area in 1994, whose consequences developed into one of the seeds of the GUARDIAN project:
We suffered a terrible fire that shook us. That made us all reflect: politicians, neighbourhood associations, citizens