Miguel Franco de Sousa. Image: Vitor Chi

Golf not ‘the elephant in the room’ when it comes to water consumption

Portugal’s golf federation “perplexed” by minister’s warning

The Portuguese golf federation has teed off on the warning earlier today from environment minister Duarte Cordeiro about curbing water consumption.

President Miguel Franco de Sousa stresses the sport is certainly not the elephant in the room when it comes to Portugal’s issues with drought – firing a broadside at recent government policies that have caused a “brutal increase” in agricultural water consumption in recent years.

This is EXACTLY what environmentalists and civic groups have been saying for longer than many of them care to remember (see below).

But tackling the inference that golf could somehow be the bogeyman, Mr Franco de Sousa stressed most golf courses already have “highly modern irrigation systems” which enable them “not to waste a single drop of water that is not absolutely necessary”.

They are invariably companies “that have to have profitable operations, and therefore have no interest in having to spend money on extra electricity or water bills when it is not necessary”, he told Lusa.

Portugal’s environment minister Duarte Cordeiro said earlier today that economic sectors and investors have “no choice” but to put their money into “what allows them to have water, which is capturing water from the sea, reusable water, efficiency of use”.

The government is ready to apply “whatever restrictions are necessary”, he said, to safeguard supplies.

The inference was that golf courses were somehow ‘water guzzlers’. Mr Franco de Sousa insists that only a “tiny part” of the sector need to upgrade irrigation practices. “The overwhelming majority, particularly in the Algarve, where the problem (of lack of water) is greater, courses already have very good irrigation and drainage systems (…) Water consumption is taken to a minimum”, he said.

And he didn’t stop there. The golf federation president stressed “it is important to understand how much water is consumed” by the various sectors.

Golf courses in the Algarve consume only 6.4 per cent of the total water consumed in the region. The sector that consumes the most water is agriculture – with almost 57 per cent, followed obviously by urban consumption, which is 28.6 per cent“.

It is also important to understand the importance of the sector, he added – meaning the socio-economic impact of golf in the region.

Golf represents around 13% of the gross added value in the Algarve, as a result of the €500 million of direct impact induced on the region’s economy. It generates around 17,000 jobs, which are maintained throughout the year, thanks to the entire golf ecosystem, and it directly employs 2,000 people.”

Weigh these figures against agriculture, which represents “only 3% of the region’s gross added value, around €115 million, and includes sectors such as animal production, hunting, forestry and fishing”.

The real elephant in the room

This is where the golf federation president cut to the chase: “On the issue of agriculture there was a brutal growth, in the order of 50%, between 2012 and 2017, in which different projects and cultures were approved that require a lot of water consumption – when there is no water,” he said.

The “state has to look at its responsibilities”, he told Lusa.

“I see with some perplexity how a government official resigns from his responsibilities, whether in the requalification of dams, lagoons, the construction of wastewater treatment plants or desalination plants.

“We look at countries like Spain and even Israel and we see that next door, for example, there are 2,000 wastewater treatment plants, while here we have half a dozen“, he stressed.

“Golf has invested a lot in requalification, there are courses that have done this work in an absolutely extraordinary way. What we ask is that the state also does its job, doesn’t abdicate its responsibilities and doesn’t find scapegoats when there’s a lack of water. Golf courses, which consume 6.4% of water, are not the devil, they are not the elephant in the room and they do not leave the country in a drought“, he clarified, giving as an example the 70 desalination plants in Spain.

As well as taking the opportunity to question the minister about “the government’s plans to better retain rainwater, to better manage the irrigation systems that come from dams, what type of wastewater treatment plants and desalination plants can be built”, Mr Franco de Sousa added that just “water losses in the public supply networks are enough to irrigate 400 to 500 golf courses“.

He didn’t even have to touch on the issue of avocado plantations which have been allowed to mushroom in the south, in spite of repeated warnings over their unsustainable water consumption from environmental NGOs and pressure groups.

natasha.donn@portugalresident.com