Manuel Díaz Rijo created the first island-based desalination in the world and changed Lanzarote forever.
Díaz Rijo was born on Lanzarote in 1928. After the Civil War his family left for the mainland and Manuel studied naval engineering in Madrid.
When the Spanish tourist boom started in the 1960s, Díaz Rijo realised that “without water, you have nothing.”. Up until that time, fresh water arrived on Lanzarote in huge cisterns brought by sea. Engineering projects aimed at harnessing a source of fresh water on the island, such as the Mala dam and a system of pumps under the cliffs of Famara failed to produce the required volume of water.
Díaz Rijo noticed that larger ships were already using desalination systems to produce fresh water and began to look into the possibility of doing this on a large scale. His ideas took him to New York, and by 1961 he had what he believed was a viable project.
Such a scheme requires a serious investment. While the Mayor of Arrecife supported the project, the President of the Lanzarote Cabildo was less enthusiastic, preferring the Famara project. Díaz Rijo set up the Thermolanza company, obtaining backing from American investors, and proceeded to construct the first island-based desalination plant in the world.
Díaz Rijo’s project also required an update to the island’s power system, which helped bring electricity to everyone on the island. He was present when Yaiza turned on the first streetlights on the island.
In 1965, he announced to sceptical islanders that they could “turn on their taps”, and Lanzarote, an island whose lack of fresh water caused centuries of hardship, emigration, drought and famine, finally entered the modern era.
The plant was later acquired by the Cabildo as a public asset. Although he never returned to live on the island, he visited several times.
While Manrique is known as the “father of Lanzarote”, his transformation was entirely dependent on the work of Díaz Rijo, without whom the island’s tourist economy and hundreds of thousands of jobs, businesses and households, would have been impossible.
The desalination plant between Arrecife and Costa Teguise still bears his name, but few tourists and islanders are aware of the man who not only changed Lanzarote forever, but also showed other islands all over the world what was possible.
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