Dangerous dam delay

MORE THAN 50 houses near the Odelouca riverbanks could be damaged if the half-completed dam proves unable to withstand a rise in the water level. This is the conclusion of a survey conducted by the body responsible for the work, the Institute of Water (INAG).

Officials for the Monchique, Silves and Portimão Civil Protection services, who are concerned about the situation, visited the dam at the end of January after work had halted. Technical experts believe the risk of overflow is not, at this moment, significant because the rainy season has passed.But their fear is that the works will not restart before the end of the summer, so paving the way for another rainy season. “We have no doubts at all that there is a risk of flooding, a risk compounded by the fact that the dam is becoming degraded,” says a spokesman from Portimão’s Civil Protection Service.

According to the survey from INAG, a flood generated by the overflow and collapse of the dam could affect the entire valley as far as Odelouca bridge. It has been estimated that the water would travel 17 kilometres in under two and a half hours and affect 51 houses.

In response to the threat, INAG has now set out an action plan, detailing the precise location of each house and the contact numbers of the occupants. Four evacuation routes have been defined so that the GNR and bombeiros can help homeowners affected by the flooding when water levels are judged to be at a critical point.

The building consortium that worked on the dam, Necso Entercanales Cubiertas and Construtora do Tamega, downed tools in November after INAG failed to pay around 5.2 million euros owed for the work to date. In spite of planning minister Amilcar Theias’ recent announcement that the work will soon become the responsibility of Águas de Portugal, nobody appears able to say when the current impasse will end and when work will restart.

Although civil protection services are united in their concern over the state of the dam, local politicians hold very different views. The social democratic president of Silves Câmara, Isabel Soares, believes that all will be resolved before October and that there is no risk for the population. Monchique Câmara officials are more cautious.

A spokesman expressed anxiety that the situation could drag on until next summer, endangering people in the vicinity. Monchique Câmara President Carlos Tuta recalled the bad weather of 1997 when the region’s rivers reached their highest levels for 100 years and has criticised INAG for its irresponsibility.