Barragem de Odeleite. Inset: AMAL boss António Pina. Photo: BRUNO FILIPE PIRES/OPEN MEDIA GROUP

Algarve drought situation improves but not enough

The rain that fell in the Algarve in the last two weeks has helped improved drought conditions and increase water levels at dams, but it was still not enough to pull the region out of a “worrying situation”, said Pedro Valadas Monteiro, regional director for agriculture and fisheries, on Wednesday (April 1).

“The recent rain does not solve our drought problem nor does it meet our water needs until the end of the year, but groundwater levels have improved significantly,” he told Lusa news agency.

The regional board of agriculture and fisheries (DRAP) in Faro registered nearly 80 millimeters of rain in two weeks, which Valadas Monteiro described as “very good”.

The northeast Algarve, the worst affected area which includes the boroughs of Alcoutim and Castro Marim, registered 70mm of rain during the same period which “represents over 10%” of the yearly 600mm average.
“With the recent rainfall, there was an increase of around four million cubic metres of water in eastern Algarve dams,” he said, adding however that this is still not enough.

Given that the Algarve needs 20 million cubic metres of water per year for agriculture and 30 million cubic metres for public use, “we are still down four to five million cubic metres of water until the end of the year” – and that is including the water that was already stored at the Odeleite and Beliche dams.

In other words, the region still needs another few weeks of rain to ensure it has enough to meet minimum requirements.

Valadares Monteiro added that at the end of February, the Algarve’s central and northeastern areas were in a state of “extreme drought”, although the situation had improved in the western Algarve where there were areas in “moderate to weak drought”.

In the eastern Algarve, there has been an improvement, but many areas are still facing “severe or extreme droughts”.

The situation has improved in the eastern Algarve, with dryland farmers benefiting from an increase in groundwater levels.

The agriculture chief explained that levels were still 10% below the so-called permanent wilting point (PWP), defined as the minimal point of soil moisture the plant requires not to wilt.

But thanks to the recent rain, groundwater levels have increased to between 41% and 60% – numbers which are enough for the needs of dryland farmers and fruit growers.

Farmers have, however, shown concern over the government’s recommendation to start using water from the Funcho dam in Silves, normally only used for agriculture, for human consumption.

Valadas Monteiro downplayed the concerns, describing the situation as “manageable”, but urged farmers to nonetheless implement “sustainable water management”.

The agriculture boss admits that the Algarve has to increase its water storage capacity and that “withdrawing water from the Guadiana River” is a possibility. If this idea moved forward, the water would be collected in Pomarão in Mértola as studies show that seawater does not reach that area.

The construction of an ‘açude galgável’ – a structure that diverts water into a reservoir – in Foupana, Castro Marim, is another “essential measure”, he added.

michael.bruxo@algarveresident.com