Algarve “needs to reflect on activities that don’t need a lot of water”

Authorities ease towards region’s developing natural crisis

With drought already staring the country in the face – in April – authorities in the Algarve have been strangely muted in their pronouncements.

A call to Águas do Algarve recently, to inquire what measures would be put in place to conserve the little water the region has, elicited the response “we are not ready to make any kind of statement yet”.

And now comes the essentially anodyne statement out of AMAL, the intermunicipal community of the Algarve, that “the worsening of the drought in the Algarve should oblige reflection on the model of development for the region to define what activities could have a future in the scenario of water scarcity”.

AMAL president António Miguel Pina tells State news agency Lusa; “What we are doing is at least ensuring that there is no shortage of water for the urban water cycle, and then you have to think about what activities, what kind of agricultural production you can have, with water in increasingly smaller quantities”

Drought is affecting every inch of the Algarve: east (Sotovento) to west (Barlavento). Pina stressed that “investments are being made to ensure the sharing of water in different reservoirs (barragens), and the increase of that capacity”.

“The system (of reservoirs/ dams) has communication” already, but it “may be necessary to increase the capacity (for sharing), depending on which dams become more compromised.

Pina also cited investments to reduce water losses (leakages from old pipes), to take advantage of wastewater (this refers mainly to golf courses, and in some cases agriculture) and to have new sources of water (desalination plants)

Among projects to “diversify sources of water that supply the region” will be the installation of one or more desalination plants, and the capture of water from the Guadiana River, through Pomarão, using funds from the Recovery and Resilience Plan (RRP), he said (without explaining that none of these projects are expected to come online in the immediate short-term).

“But a deeper, medium and long term reflection is needed, and that is what the Water Pact is all about, because the Algarve’s development model has to be thought of, taking into account the water variable in its definition”, he said.

It is necessary to “look at who the major consumers” of water in the Algarve are, bearing in mind that “agriculture represents 60% (of usage), the urban water cycle 32% and golf 6%“, in order to then think about the economic activities that are viable depending on the water that will be available in the future.

“We must also make it clear that golf, which only consumes 6% of water, has a gross added value equal to agriculture in our region, which consumes 60%“, he said, stressing that it is necessary to understand “if it is possible to continue to grow” with productions or certain agricultural species, but without specifying which ones, says Lusa.

This is as close as any politician has got to hinting that large scale water guzzling monocultures that the regional department of agriculture told us all were ‘the future’ only a few years ago may well not be. Indeed, they may well be part of the reason the region is in the parlous state that it has found itself. (Years ago when west Algarve residents were challenging the wisdom of a massive avocado plantation in an area without mains water supplies to households, a representative of the plantation explained that mature trees required 80 litres of water per day. Multiply that by the number of trees now planted in that one project – over 46,000 -, and one gets an idea of the volume of water being pumped out of the ground.)

Pina trod a careful line, however, telling Lusa: “We’re not talking about taking away what already exists” in the region’s agriculture, but rather “about considering whether the growth of agricultural activity can be carried out in the same way as it has been up till now” in the Algarve.

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