Members of the ‘Estrangeiros/Foreigners Algarve’ group

Foreign residents threaten to take Algarve desalination project to European Court

A group of foreign residents in the Algarve are threatening to take Albufeira Municipal Council to the European Court of Justice over the project to build a desalination plant in the borough, which the residents consider an “environmental crime” that could cause “irreparable damage” to the region.

The group delivered a petition against the project to the Municipal Assembly of Albufeira on Monday (January 29), pinpointing all the reasons why scientists say that desalination is not the answer for the Algarve.

“Every Algarve resident has to be made aware of the disastrous consequences of desalination for the region,” said Alisa Scutt, a representative for the group which was formed by likeminded foreign residents who met through the Facebook group ‘Estrangeiros/Foreigners Algarve’ – and who have said they are looking to create a political movement to run in the 2025 municipal elections.

The motivation behind their campaign is a report by Plataforma Água Sustentável (Sustainable Water Platform, sometimes shortened to PAS) from December 2023, which the Resident highlighted at the time (see our article ‘Desalination: Sustainable water platform highlights all reasons why it is not answer for Algarve’).

What the report – created by experts from the 15 environmental associations and organisations that make up PAS – defends is that desalination (the process of turning seawater into freshwater) should be a “last resort when all other alternatives have been exhausted”. To defend their position, the authors of the report cite the “very high energy consumption” and the “major environmental impacts” associated with the functioning of a desalination plant.

Instead of focusing on desalination, PAS suggests tackling the considerable amount of water lost in the public supply network.

Paolo Funassi (second from left) with Estrangeiros/Foreigners Albufeira colleagues
Paolo Funassi (second from left) with Estrangeiros/Foreigners Albufeira colleagues

“The losses in the public supply network in the Algarve are 30%, and in the agricultural irrigation networks, they exceed 35% – according to data from the Portuguese Environmental Agency and the Algarve Water Resources Administration. These losses, when combined, represent a waste of approximately 30% of the total water consumption accounted for in the Algarve,” the report highlights. It also stresses how “only 1.02% of water is reused” in the region.

Brine (the environmentally damaging by-product created by the desalination process) remains another major issue cited by desalination opponents, as the report states.

“The brine discharge flow may vary between 277 litres per second and 1,108 litres per second, which means that, on a daily basis, considering an average flow of 700 l/s, approximately 60,500 cubic metres of salt and contaminated water with high levels of heavy metals (aluminium and iron) and chemicals will be discharged 1.8 km from the beach shoreline,” PAS says.

The sustainable water platform also mentions Spain as an example of how desalination plants have failed to tackle water shortages.

“Spain has more than 800 desalination plants and has more water shortage issues than Portugal,” PAS says. “It is proof that the path does not involve increasing the amount of water. Instead, it involves planning economic activities according to the amount of water we have, after ensuring public supply ecological flows to maintain the proper functioning of the many ecosystems that depend on this resource,” it adds.

According to Alisa Scutt, the group of foreign residents will not stop until the findings of this report are shared amongst as many Algarve residents as possible, and publicly discussed by the authorities involved.

The full report can be found online.

By Michael Bruxo
[email protected]