Orange harvest this year have been very disappointing. Citrus trees need good supplies of water throughout the year to thrive.

Citrus growers want government to lead debate on mitigating drought

Refer to need for ‘water highway’ from north to south

The largest Portuguese association of citrus fruit operators, AlgarOrange, wants the government to lead a national debate on the strategy for dealing with the country’s water shortage, particularly acute in the Algarve, its president José OIiveira has said today.

AlgarOrange unites around 40% of the region’s operators and believes more needs to be done to assuage members’ concerns.

“What we cannot do is leave operators in the uncertainty of tomorrow,” he explained, referring to plantations with “30, 40 even 50 hectares that are already having” problems with securing enough water.

Obviously, AlgarOrange has welcomed news of the desalination plant forecast for Albufeira, and the “pumping of water from the Pomarão dam in the district of Mertola to the reservoirs in the eastern Algarve”, he said. But “we don’t think we can put aside the possibility of having more water, and that means strategically discussing the problem of water in the south of the country.” 

For instance, growers want to know whether an increase in water production “is feasible”, “whether there is money” and, above all, “whether there is political will to solve this problem”.

Right now, the situation is that “from one moment to the next” a number of businesses in the southern part of the country could collapse: “many of the operators who make their living from commercialising oranges, if production fails, will also fail (…) That’s why it’s important to discuss this (..) as a national plan” and “to know which path we’re going to take,” he said.

In August, Portugal had 48 per cent of its territory in severe to extreme drought, compared to 100 per cent last year at this time of year, minister for the environment and climate action Duarte Cordeiro announced at the end of the month.

But, the most serious situation is in the south of the country: the coastal region of Alentejo and the Algarve, where the drought situation is most definitely ‘extreme’.

Says José Oliveira, there needs to be better management, supervision and monitoring of how water is being used.

“Naturally, if there is little, restrictions have to be (applied) in all sectors. Naturally, in agriculture too,” he said.

Right now, in spite of the south’s dire situation, restrictions are nowhere to be seen: town centres even offer car wash facilities – a use of water which many would say was completely unnecessary.

Oliveira has also “lamented that the majority of underground catchments (meaning aquifers) have “no control or monitoring”. Once these aquifers run dry, homes and businesses drawing water from them will lurch into crisis.

Thus citrus fruit operators believe that not only should the management of water be improved, but the collection of water needs to be increased. 

“Studies should be carried out into the possible construction of a new reservoir at Foupana, in the eastern Algarve, and new reservoirs in the region”, explains Lusa.

Oliveira also alluded to the water transfers that go on in Spain, from north to south – a kind of water highway that civil engineers have advocated in the past – “because effectively, there are no problems at national level. This year we have a better situation than in previous years, but that’s in the northern part of the country. In the south of the country there is no (water) and we wouldn’t be the first to think of taking […] water from regions where it exists to regions where it doesn’t exist,” he said.

AlgarOrange believes this possibility “should be put on the table” and that “we should discuss it and recognise that water is a national problem, a national goal”.

“Down here, either we have water or we’re not going to have water. If we don’t have water, agriculture will be one of the sectors that will suffer drastically,” he concluded.

Already “we’re seriously worried, very worried, because the indicators we have are of daily problems in the water supply (…) production is going to be lower and there’s a high possibility of trees drying out.”

Source material: LUSA