Drought solutions: don’t rush to desalination, urge environmental groups

Desalination implies pollution; deforestation and increasing carbon footprint

Portuguese sustainable water platform (PAS) has today defended greater use of treated river and wastewater, speaking out against desalination plants, water capture in the Guadiana River and the construction of new dams/ reservoirs.

PAS – which brings together 14 associations – says that with regard to dams, besides the known environmental impacts, the increase in temperature/evaporation and reduction of rainfall will make the volume of water to be stored increasingly smaller.

In a statement released about water scarcity, the organisation make 14 proposals that it considers “priority and structuring“, including soil conservation to optimise rainwater retention, fight erosion, promote carbon sequestration and ensure the safeguard of the areas included in the National Ecological Network.

It also considers important reforestation with autochthonous, diversified and resilient species; the restoration and rehabilitation of water courses, the use of run-off water, the control and management of floods, and the capture and storage of rainwater in buildings.

The use of treated wastewater, which is already happening, but which, the associations say, should be further developed; the reduction of losses in urban and irrigation networks, and the maintenance of aquifer protection areas are other proposals put forwards.

The platform stresses the need to licence,  and supervise, water abstraction (underground and surface), and ensure that agricultural crops are adapted to the amount of water and climatic characteristics of the area (a huge undertaking bearing in mind the proliferation of water-consuming explorations producing berries and salad greens along coastal Alentejo).

PAS also believes it is necessary to “modify green urban spaces” (mean reduce the numbers of them), which, they say, “do not make sense with the scarcity of water”. Lawns should be replaced by other species, and trees and shrubs that require less water should be planted.

The associations urge that any increase of tourist areas, or any other type of urban development, should only happen if there are sustainable conditions, such as having water. The construction of new swimming pools, for example, should be restricted.

PAS acknowledges that the solutions to Portugal’s water issues are not simple, but guarantee that they do not involve large civil construction works that increase the ecological footprint, worsening water consumption, deforestation and pollution of the sea (in that brine, a heavy by-product, is invariably dumped back into the sea…).

PAS was created in 2020 and has been alerting over the “lack of timely institutional response to the problem of water scarcity, namely in the Algarve region” ever since.

Its text today stresses that the construction of a desalination plant in the Algarve (the government has already hinted there will be two, one in the Albufeira area, the other near Lagos) represents a high cost and does not solve the problem of water shortage.

As agriculture is the largest consumer of water in the country and in the Algarve, the associations wonder ‘how many desalination plants would have to be built to supply agriculture?’

Desalination “is coupled with social discrimination: authorities have systematically reaffirmed that water from reservoirs, financed by public money, is for private agricultural use, and will be sold at a lower price than water obtained through desalination, destined for public consumption, but coming from a private company or a public-private partnership”, PAS explains.

Says Lusa, PAS also says, suggestions by the State to construct new dams and/ or capture water from the Guadiana River are proposals that contradict the Water Framework Directive and other documents, such as the National Strategy for Adaptation to Climate Change.

The platform also points to a non-sequitur in the study “Regadio 2030” (irrigation 2030), which proposes to extend the irrigated area in the Algarve and Alentejo. “How can this extension be explained, given the scarcity of water?”, asks PAS, which brings together various associations, particularly from the Algarve, and others of national scope, like LPN and Quercus.