GAINING A consensus of all the various agencies involved in trying to come up with alternative ways to keep the region supplied with water has proved an extremely difficult task.
After Águas do Algarve, the concessionary body operating the multi-municipal system for water supply to the region, has presented a study on the matter, in which several scenarios and sources of supply were considered and analysed, the Instituto da Água (Inag) went public recently, announcing that it will proceed with its own investigations into the various proposals for solving the problem. The announcement
was made at the meeting of the recently formed Commissão da Seca Específica para o Algarve (Commission for the Drought in the Algarve), which took place in Enxerim, Silves, with the participation of Inag, the Commission of Regional Co-ordination and Development, the Junta Metropolitana, representatives of Águas de Portugal and Águas do Algarve, as well as other interested organisations.
Águas do Algarve have proposed various solutions including the construction of the Foupana reservoir, supply by means of a chain of pumps from the Santa Clara reservoir, pumping water from the Guadiana River and the installation of two desalinisation plants.
Most of these alternatives have already been studied thoroughly by Águas do Algarve, but the study was put on hold recently due to the high costs of each solution.
Although the meeting had centred on the analysis of measures, which could be taken during the short and medium term, while bearing in mind that the drought could go on into 2006, the lack of consensus between the various bodies means that an atmosphere of hesitation and confusion prevails.
Águas do Algarve and Águas de Portugal will not say whether there will be cuts in the water supply in the near future and the municipalities also admit the possibility while, at the same time, emphasising that everything is being done to avoid this situation.
Only the president of Inag stated confidently that there would be no water rationing for priority use in the Algarve in 2006, even though the year may bring a continuation of the drought. But many doubt this. If any of the proposed solutions are put into action, none could be implemented in less than two years. The prevailing view seems to be that there could well be serious supply problems ahead.
Although Águas de Portugal may be against desalinisation on account of the high costs involved and the relatively poor quality of water produced, it is reported that Águas do Algarve continue to propound the idea both for the rapidity of its implementation and for the prospects of supply in future drought situations.
Shortage of water dries up Águas do Algarve revenue
Águas do Algarve is beginning to experience financial problems. With water saving measures in place and the reactivation of municipal boreholes, Águas do Algarve sold 11 per cent less water between January and August of this year than during the same period in 2004. Overall results so far show an average fall in revenue of about three per cent.
For August, the month recording the highest water usage, the region revenues for Águas do Algarve fell by over 23 per cent against the same period last year. This is not so surprising when it is considered that Águas do Algarve treatment stations are issuing less than 30 per cent of their normal output.
Águas do Algarve started to experience a reduction in revenues from October of last year, when the concessionary body was considering contingency plans and activated the municipal supplies at Albufeira and Lagos, anticipating a difficult year ahead.
When the first water saving measures were implemented, Águas do Algarve sold six per cent less water to the municipalities, but, by the beginning of 2005, consumption began to rise, which obliged new saving measures to be put into action. At the moment, an average of 30 per cent less water is being sold to the municipalities, with 32 per cent less going to Albufeira, 40 per cent less going to Lagoa, 70 per cent less going to Faro and 85 per cent less going to Vila do Bispo.
In view of the recently released figures and the prospect of the drought continuing into 2006, Artur Ribeiro, administrator of Águas do Algarve, was reported as warning that the viability of Águas do Algarve could be compromised. In an extreme situation, Ribeiro stated that it may be necessary for Águas do Algarve to request an alteration in water tariffs or the extension of the term of the concession to Águas do Algarve of the right to supply the municipalities.
If Águas do Algarve do go into the red, it falls to the municipalities, under the concessionary agreement, to cover the financial shortfall.
Drought set to continue until November
The extreme drought situation in the Algarve is here to stay for the next few months, according to information included in the most recent report of the national drought commission.
Quoting data from the European Weather Centre, the document states that the average temperature will have a tendency to be above average and that the total precipitation will be lower than is usual during the months of September, October and November. If this is correct, then the drought cannot possibly end in the near future. The report says that for the situation in the Algarve to reverse before the end of the month, a total of 99 millimetres of rain will need to fall – the second highest figure since 1965!
Also, the report says that even if the rainfall was higher than normal, attaining levels experienced only six times in 30 years, the situation in the Algarve would improve only slightly, with the region passing from a classification of “extreme drought” to “severe drought”.
According to the report, Faro received the least rain in Portugal since the beginning of the meteorological year, registering 151 millimetres, 30 per cent of that which is usual. Meanwhile, the water reserves continue to dwindle. The levels in the reservoirs of Arade and Funchal in the Barlavento have gone down to 6.1 per cent of their usual capacity and the Bravura reservoir, the least affected, is now at 39.6 per cent capacity.
In the Sotavento, the reservoirs of Odeleite and Beliche continue to experience drops in levels with both now at about 20 per cent of their usual capacity. These two reservoirs are currently serving urban and agricultural areas and have been drawn upon several times this year to supply parched Barlavento.
Faced with these worrying figures, volumes for irrigation and urban supply have both been reduced by about a third.