golf course
Image: Luís Forra/ Lusa

Golf courses want connection to waste water plants to reduce consumption

Sector responsible for only 6% of water consumption; wants to do better

Golf courses in the Algarve want to be quickly connected to wastewater treatment plants and consume only wastewater – a measure to reduce consumption of the public network that the sector’s leaders regret is late in being implemented.

This is the opening paragraph of a story broadcast by RTP (State) news channel this morning as another blistering week begins, with an eerily pregnant silence by authorities as to how the south of the country means to cope this summer, serving the local population in the face of the prospect of millions of holidaymakers arriving from July through to September.

Golf courses are only responsible for 6% of the region’s water usage. This was spelled out last month by president of the intermunicipal community of the Algarve António Pina. Yet they are keen to take that percentage even lower, if only authorities would ‘get their act together’.

Pedro Lopes, director of the Pestana Group in the Algarve, tells Lusa: “We have been talking about investing (in ways to reduce consumption), but very few concrete steps have been taken on the ground”.

Says the news agency, Lopes “lamented the existence of a series of investments that have been planned for several years and are still not getting off the ground, such as those planned for the construction of a desalination plant (or plants), for use of water from waste water treatment centres, for repairs to structural leaks within the mains water network, etc.

This has been a ‘crisis in plain sight’ for years: the drought has not come ‘out of the blue’. Scientists/ meteorologists have been warning of the situation the Algarve is now in since the 90s at least (if not before). Yet golf courses approach to authorities, for connection to waste water plants so that they can use wastewater, is moving slowly.

The last three years have seen the, Pestana group particularly – responsible for the running of five of the Algarve’s courses, implementing measures to reduce the use of water on its courses, by “a third to 40%”.

These measures include using ‘new varieties of grass’ which require less water.

On Lagoa’s Gramacho golf course in Carvoeiro, for example, Lopes pointed out to Lusa patches of brown on certain greens that are this colour “because they receive less water and less fertiliser”. 

But the group believes it can do even better… if only it was connected to waste water treatment plants, or ETARs as they are known here.

Says Lusa: “Pedro Lopes has no doubts that “the water (from the ETARs) that is wasted today, going into rivers and the sea, (…) can be used on golf courses precisely in the summer, which is when they need it most”.

Right now, three golf courses ARE connected to an ETAR in the Algarve, “but many more have to do so”, stresses Lopes.

Pestana Group will only start using ETAR water next summer, on two of its courses in the Algarve, explains Lusa.

Rui Grave, golf director at the D. Pedro Group (Vilamoura), which also has five courses in the Algarve, says the company’s philosophy is “year after year” to only use what is necessary. Even so, each hectare of golf course consumes an average of 8,000 cubic metres of water per year, and when it is coming from groundwater, through boreholes, that is reducing the groundwater available within the area, which serves other concerns, including many households. 

D. Pedro’s courses are also ‘all set for linking with ETARs’, but the process is taking its time. By 2025, two, possibly three courses, should be fully irrigated with waste water, Grave told Lusa

“There is a great effort by Águas de Portugal, by Águas do Algarve, by APA (Portuguese Environment Agency), by the golf courses so that the water comes from the ETARs with enough quality to keep our greens in condition, without ever jeopardizing public health,” he said.

But it is all taking longer than the sector that brings visitors to the region all through the year would like, while the effects of years of less than optimum rainfall are relentlessly changing the region’s ecosystem.

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