Cork oak forests have been described as an "environmental shield" in the fight against climate change

Environmental NGO goes all out to save hundreds of hectares of cork oak forest

Forests to be felled for construction of Pisão dam

One of Portugal’s leading environmental associations, Quercus, has warned of “major negative environmental impacts” arising from the construction of the Pisão Dam, in Crato (Portalegre), claiming that it will destroy “hundreds of hectares of cork oak forest”.

“At a time of economic crisis, this investment should be changed”, because, the project “has major negative environmental impacts, destroying hundreds of hectares of cork oak forest, with tens of thousands of holm oaks”, said the group in a statement.

In addition to the destruction of cork oak forests in the region”, the planned irrigation “will promote the uncontrolled spread of super-intensive irrigated crops”, which have been “destroying the character of Alentejo”.

Quercus’ statement comes at a time when public consultation of the Environmental Impact Study (EIA) of the project, which is in the preliminary study phase, is underway.

Quercus regrets that the public consultation is taking place “in the summer, during the holiday season” (between July 1 and August 11) because this generally means less people are likely to take notice of it.

The NGO is also unhappy that €120 million from the Recovery and Resilience Plan (PRR ‘bazooka’) are being ploughed into this dam

“If the project goes ahead, it will be a first shot of the ‘bazooka’ off-target,” Quercus said.

For Quercus, “the PRR, in the context of the economic and social crisis due to the pandemic, should contribute to sustainable growth integrated in the European Ecological Pact (Green Deal)”. It should “not finance destructive and unviable projects without major public and community investment”.

The installation of “a large” solar plant in the area, included in the project, has not escaped criticism either. Quercus says the installation will change the use of the soil in an agro-forestry area, “instead of using the roofs of buildings in already artificial areas”.

Consulted today by Lusa, the non-technical summary of the EIA of the Crato Multi Purpose Hydraulic Facility (AHFM), better known as the Pisão Dam, acknowledged the project does involve “significant negative impacts”.

These impacts, both in the construction and operating phases, imply the “substantial affectation” of natural, heritage, ecological and socio-economic values, it said.

However, according to the document, the work should be given the green light, taking into account the “socio-economic value” that it could represent for a region such as Portalegre, “very much in need of structuring projects” which may boost regional development.

The Pisão Dam has been a historical aspiration and claim of the population of Alto Alentejo for more than half a century.

According to the schedule submitted to the European Commission, the works will be completed in 2025, comprising an investment of €171 million, €120 million of which is already included in the PRR.

According to the Intermunicipal Community of Alto Alentejo (CIMAA), responsible for implementing the project, the dam will arise in an area of 10,000 hectares, benefiting about 110,000 people in the 15 municipalities of the district of Portalegre, and its “main objective is to ensure the availability of water for urban consumption”.

In addition, it aims to “reconfigure agricultural activity and create opportunities for new economic activities, particularly in agriculture, tourism and the energy sector” since it also includes a floating photovoltaic plant (whose funding was left out of the PRR).

Quercus is not the only NGO desperate to stop this project. GEOTA, last year, described the plan for the dam as opening up a “hole of consequences without return”.

Source: Lusa