One of the many dams north of the Tejo river that are absolutely full right now. This one being Barragem da Bouçã, Rio Zêzere. Photo: Facebook/ Humberto Ventura Beto Pipocas
One of the many dams north of the Tejo river that are absolutely full right now. This one being Barragem da Bouçã, Rio Zêzere. Photo: Facebook/ Humberto Ventura Beto Pipocas

Drought in Portugal: there is an answer

Water highway from north to south would solve many problems

Portugal’s “situation of drought” is not actually a water deficit, it is a “distribution problem”. Northern areas have no drought – ergo why not transfer water from north to south? 

This is the argument of Portuguese civic association SEDES which says the ‘drought’ affecting 40% of the country is solvable if only authorities went ahead with the completion of efficiency plans, increased reserves and the possibility of a north-south pipeline.

“If it is true that in the south, annual precipitation has been lower, it is no less true that extreme rainfall phenomena also occurs – an example being what happened last Autumn -, and that north of the Tejo river water resources are relatively abundant,” says the association in a statement sent to Lusa.

SEDES goes on with its ideas, explaining that “in the south, there are good soils and larger agricultural areas, but there is no water.  In the north, the land is less suitable for agricultural production, with smaller plots and plenty of water.

“It is therefore urgent to put into practice solutions already studied and identified so that Portugal is prepared to face these climatic phenomena, avoid desertification of some areas, keep populations in these regions and maintain territorial cohesion.

“It is necessary to adjust availability to needs, from human consumption to industry, tourism, agriculture or even new energy sources; absolutely essential” to increase water reserves in the south” (meaning more dams and reservoirs). The country has about 47.000 h3 [cubic hectolitres] in water drainage and the total annual consumption of all activities is about 5.900 h3. 1% of this water is enough to irrigate 100,000 hectares, it’s easy to understand how much is wasted into the sea”, says SEDES.  

And now to the possibility already raised by readers of the Resident – the transferring water from north to south, “integrating river basins of Douro, Tejo, Guadiana and Sado, bringing water from Minho to Algarve, in a true ‘water highway‘”.

The association is thus urging”real commitment and political will” to solve the problem of water resources, “on behalf of the national interest”.

This is what has been so glaringly lacking this far: politicians talk about ‘possibilities of desalination if the money comes from Brussels’ (without giving any details of where these plants will be sited; how they will be powered – desalination requires huge levels of electricity – or indeed how waste products, including enormous quantities of brine, will be recycled). 

From farmers to entities like SEDES, the challenge now is for decision-makers to actually grasp the nettle. ‘Don’t just ask for subsidies for farmers to purchase animal feed, deal with the structural issues: the lack of water in specific areas’.

Says Lusa “SEDES is a civic association, founded in 1970, with 17 districts in Portugal, which has observatories dedicated to issues such as agriculture, culture and media, justice, health and economic policies”.

SEDES own website explains how its “founders came from different academic backgrounds, social strata, professional activities and political options (…) united “by a great desire for change and a diversified social militancy: academic associations, political protest against the system, participation in Christian organisations and trade union activity”.

While Lusa concentrates on the government blurb that “the ministry of agriculture and food, headed by Maria do Céu Antunes, acknowledged this week the situation of severe and extreme drought in about 40% of the country. In a statement released on Tuesday, the ministry said it has signalled the situation to the European Commission, adding that the adoption of a set of measures is always dependent on the “green light” from Brussels” – the inference from SEDES is that the government is still ‘dithering on the sidelines of the problem’.

All the references to a ‘green light from Brussels’; ‘a set of measures’, the ‘PDSI – Palmer Drought Severity Index’; the “above normal” temperatures, heat waves and reduced rainfall in March and April, is, effectively “bla-bla”. Structural solutions are in plain sight. They have been identified – and recovery and resilience money exists, albeit for a finite period, for exactly these type of situations.

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