The glory days of this little river, again taken in the spring before the water flow suddenly died
The glory days of this little river, again taken in the spring before the water flow suddenly died

Excessive unmonitored water extraction “killing precious mountain river”

Cry for help from Portugal’s ‘forgotten’ central region

Residents in Portugal’s central region are pushing to be heard over what they claim is the excessive unmonitored water extraction killing what used to be a vibrant mountain watercourse.

United under the banner “Love the Alpreade” the multicultural group are appealing to APA, Portugal’s agency for the environment, and local councils to “urgently investigate” what they believe is a form of ecocide – a draining of the little river’s lifeblood in a specific area, to the detriment of what used to be a natural paradise, full of fish and supporting a wealth of wildlife.

Said a source behind petitions: “Forever in the old people’s memories this has been a river (albeit small) with year round plentiful water which the dozens of mills along its course bear testament to. The river starts just above Castelo Novo near Fundão.

“But central Portugal with its sparse and aging population is often seen as a soft target for environmental abuse, and that is what seems to be happening here.

“Our precious mountain river is dying. It no longer runs all year. For seven months, the Alpreade gushes from the sacred Gardunha mountain. The cold crystalline waters are home to a wonderful diversity of life, otters, kingfishers, herons feed on multitudes of small fish, dragonflies hover, golden orioles and bee eaters call whilst damp margins are inhabited by salamanders, newts, frogs and toads. The canopy is green; bats flit past in the dusk. Seven months of idyll, but for the last two years due to excessive, unmonitored extraction this perfection has been replaced with pools of dying fish, less and less birds and a deafening silence.

“The slow suffocation of nature was made all the more cruel as this spring new life emerged and hope was briefly regained only to be extinguished once again (see photograph below).

This is how the river looked in the spring
This is how the river looked in the spring
This is how the flow had transformed two months later

“Our river cannot continue to hold out like this, within our lifetimes the Alpreade was famous for large fish & eels, children would swim in the pools, terrapins basked on rocks & songs of water filled the air, now for a growing portion of the year within 5kms of the river’s start there is nothing.

“Wetlands and rivers are the fastest disappearing habitats in Europe.

“According to the Portuguese environment agency (APA) ” Ecological flows are understood to mean flow regimes that ensure the conservation & maintenance of natural aquatic ecosystems. The ecological flow regime MUST be guaranteed in all water bodies”

The group says it has tried locally to be heard, but is getting nowhere.

“The matter has gone before the Câmara which has dismissed the issue. Radio Cova da Beira gave the campaign a 3 minute slot https://rcb-radiocovadabeira.pt/agua-nao-esta-a-ser-desperdicada/. We’ve spoken to the junta & GNR, Quercus have been involved in a vague manner but no-one listens…The local paper were asked last year to help, we’re still waiting”.

Thus this latest effort to get the situation ‘out in the open’, encourage people to sign the various petitions and power investigation into how water is being extracted from the Alpreade, and by whom.

A recent post on the Love the Alpreade facebook page alludes to a meeting at the local town council (which has reportedly dismissed the group’s fears) saying what was not understood was that the little river is being “drained of water in an abusive continuous way. 

“We invite the executive to walk along the riverbank in comfortable footwear for stepping on earth and stones…”

Meantime, two Portuguese members of the group are in the process of lodging a court action.

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