Paolo Funassi with one of the flyers his group will be distributing throughout Albufeira
Paolo Funassi with one of the flyers his group will be distributing throughout Albufeira

De-bunking desalination: Algarve has new environmental battle

Foreign residents spearhead ‘awareness campaign’ to highlight dangers of desalination

The Algarve has a new environmental battle on its hands: de-bunking desalination – otherwise presented by the government as ‘the answer to the region’s problems of water scarcity’.

Not only will a €50 million desalination plant envisaged for Albufeira NOT be the answer to the region’s problems of water scarcity – this has been admitted most recently by president of AMAL, António Pina – it will irredeemably pollute the sea as the by-products of the process are to be funneled, untreated, back into the ocean via a 1.8 km pipeline running out of Praia da Falésia.

Albufeira's Praia da Falésia
Albufeira’s Praia da Falésia is one of the most iconic ‘in the world’, say campaigners, who want to save it from being used to carry untreated brine out into the wider ocean

“It will all go far, far out to sea”, a source for Águas do Algarve assured the Resident, months ago when this subject was starting to gather steam. “It won’t do any harm …”

Except that this is not a view shared by the technical experts who compiled a detailed study on the plan, and found that it could indeed do a great deal of harm, particularly to marine life.

PAS (the Platform for Sustainable Water) presented its findings earlier this year, minutely explaining that desalination should ONLY be considered as a final resort, after all other options have been exhausted. (For PAS’ report read here)

PAS makes several suggestions on how to tackle water scarcity ‘sustainably’. But authorities have appeared to take no notice, moving forwards only with the plan to spend Brussels’ millions on a desalination plant sited on land that belongs to someone else (see below).

This is why the cause has been taken up by ‘Foreigners/ Estrangeiros Algarve’, a newly formed citizens group – based in Albufeira – with heroic ambitions, which happens to be led by an Italian who stresses he “never gives up”, and a Ukrainian who describes herself as “a pit bull”.

This morning, in the stunning winter sunshine, the duo called the first ‘meeting’ to kick-start the group’s campaign.

It took place on the steps leading down to Praia da Falésia, the beach from which 60,500 tonnes of untreated brine will be pumped every day once the plant is fully functioning.

A number of journalists and locals attended, among them a wry former university lecturer who mused on the tragedy behind this plan. “If it wasn’t for Europe it would never be happening. It is because of all the European money that our politicians come up with ideas like these. They would never spend €50 million on such a plan otherwise”.

But Brussels is equally focused on ‘sustainable solutions’ and reducing carbon footprints, thus campaigners trust their efforts to contact MEPs on the environmental committee, and in making every resident of the Algarve aware of what is being planned, may bear fruit.

For now, the awareness campaign is going to start doing the rounds of local cafés/ restaurants/ hotels/ and ‘people’. Flyers have been printed/ brief speeches prepared.

“There are so many other solutions that need to be enacted first”, Paolo Funassi explains. “Solutions that do not damage the environment, or tourism”.

As Rosa Guedes of PAS stressed, the sea “has no borders”. The untreated brine, laden with chemical byproducts, will go wherever the tides take it. When there is a south-westerly blowing, that means, much of the consequences will flow back towards the coast, back towards the pristine beaches. “What will it do for fishing?” She shakes her head.

People almost don’t talk about this”, Paolo explains. “It is a subject that has barely been explained, which is why we will be ‘taking it out there’ to try and save this paradise from something that will not do what it promises, and will harm the sea/ the environment and ultimately all our lives”.

Alisa Scutt is the other member of Foreigners/Estrangeiros Algarve who insists the campaign’s efforts “can change this story”. She is intent on taking it to the European Commission as she is quite sure the environmental committee will not agree with the heavy discharges of brine.

A UN-backed paper (“The state of desalination and brine production: A global outlook“) put out almost six years ago under the headline: “UN Warns of Rising Levels of Toxic Brine as Desalination Plants Meet Growing Water Needs” explains that for every litre of freshwater output, desalination plants produce an average of 1.5 litres of brine. 

Globally, plants now discharge 142 million cubic meters of hypersaline brine every day (a 50% increase on previous assessments). 

That’s enough in a year (51.8 billion cubic meters) to cover Portugal more than twice over. 

As the paper explains, many countries do as Portugal is proposing – channelling the brine back into the sea, but it is destroying ocean habitats by making them too salty.

Thus this is the region’s latest ‘real environmental battle’. It has seen ‘the battle against Feldspar mining in Monchique‘ (already two or three times over); the battle against mass tourism development near the Lagoa de Salgados birding wetland, and the battle to stop oil and gas drilling off the south and west coasts.

All the above battles were won by their campaigners. Friends/ Estrangeiros Algarve believe this one will be won, too.

SOMEONE ELSE’s LAND

Adding to the drama of desalination is the fact that authorities have their eyes on 12 hectares of land that belong to someone else.

The land is the property of the Galician Ferreiro family who had planned to seek permission to construct an old people’s home there.

The first they heard of a desalination plant in Albufeira was when they received a letter from Águas do Algarve a year ago, telling them their land, 4kms from the coast, was going to be compulsorily purchased, for €600,000 – a fraction of the €15 million it has been valued at.

Albida Ferreiro had tears in her eyes as she told this story: not simply for the stress that it has heaped upon her 80-year-old father, but because she and her husband ‘love nature’ and cannot imagine their land being used for such a polluting process.

Albida Ferreiro and her family say they will fight the compulsory purchase of their land “to the end”

“We are not agreeing”, she told the Resident. “We will fight this to the end”.

A petition against the Albufeira desalination project has already been presented to Albufeira City Hall.

An online petition can be accessed here.

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