The municipalities demand the construction of a new dam. Águas do Algarve guarantees that there will be no water shortage at the taps until the end of the year.
Half of the Algarve, the Leeward, is in a situation of “extreme drought” and the other half is running there, in a “severe drought”. On the Algarve watershed management map, the boreholes that irrigate the golf courses of Vale do Lobo are already marked with a “red” triangle. The situation is not unprecedented, but this year the Algarve region is particularly hard hit by a drought that scares you the most: cuts in supplies to the agricultural sector.
The hydrological year began a month ago, but the rain is not coming. Because now, the farmers say, it is just promises, already desperate, that there has been almost no rain for seven months. The sky is cloudy from time to time, but St. Peter does not turn on the tap. Summer went into autumn, leaving a trace of sadness in the fields. The streams are almost completely dry and the aquatic life has died. The worst affected area is the northeast of the Algarve, in the municipalities of Castro Marim and Alcoutim.
According to the Portuguese Environment Agency (APA), the proportion of dams in the region is 37.1% of the maximum storage capacity. But “although it will not rain until the end of the year, there will be no problem supplying the population,” says the spokeswoman of Águas do Algarve, Teresa Fernandes, and shows the conviction that the “government will take action” if the situation worsens. One of the solutions, she admits, “could be to cut agriculture, as happened in 2005 [the year of the great drought]. Human consumption is at the forefront,” he stresses.
In the meantime, the company (which belongs to the Águas de Portugal group) also uses the artesian boreholes of the Querença/Silves aquifer to supplement the supply of the population, which is essentially guaranteed by the dam system.
In view of the various scenarios that will arise to safeguard the future of the region – depending on tourism, but also in demand for the development of new irrigation crops – the question arises: does the Algarve need a new dam? The mayor of São Brás de Alportel, Vítor Guerreiro, has no doubts. “It is an absolutely necessary infrastructure, it is a strategic reserve. The Social Democratic mayor will make a proposal at the executive session on Tuesday to resume the “construction of a dam in the central area of the Algarve”.
More than 30% of the continent suffers from severe and extreme drought at the end of October.
More than 30% of continental territory in severe and extreme drought at the end of October
The fight’s been going on for almost 40 years. In 1981, he recalls, the preliminary study for the construction of the Monte da Ribeira (or Alportel) dam in the central area of the region was presented. If the work had progressed, he notes: “There would probably be no contamination of the soil on the Faro meadows”. Moreover, with the emergence of extreme phenomena, he argues more and more frequently, “the dam would allow the control of floods and floods in the Ribeira do Alportel / Río Gilão (Tavira)”. The municipal assembly has already unanimously adopted a motion to defend the “urgent need to strengthen the water storage capacity of the Algarve”.
The mayors of Sotavento demand the construction of the Foupana dam, which will be part of the Odeleite/Belich system. More than two decades ago, the former water institute even developed initial studies predicting that the dam could have a capacity of 100 million cubic metres. “But we only remember the lack of water in the years of drought,” comments Vítor Guerreiro, for whom it is the same thing to build a dam on the Ribeira do Alportel or in Foupana, “it is important that a project is carried out to secure the future of the region”.
But José Paulo Monteiro warns: “The rivers cannot all be domesticated. The water sector, recalls the hydrogeologist, “is very conservative and likes the solutions tested centuries ago, such as dams. But proper resource management could include “the artificial replenishment of aquifers with treated effluents, as is the case in Madrid, Barcelona or Israel. For example, the new Faro/Olhão wastewater treatment plant in Ria Formosa starts 40 million hectares of waste water without any use. From a scientific point of view, according to the hydrogeologist, “these questions have been studied for a long time, but they are not yet part of the solutions of the national water management strategy”.