Protestors outside Odemira town hall today, fearful that decisions would be made to sanction taking even more water from the already 'dead level' Santa Clara dam. Image: Facebook
Protestors outside Odemira town hall today, fearful that decisions would be made to sanction taking even more water from the already 'dead level' Santa Clara dam. Image: Facebook

Government “considering lowering water abstraction quota of Santa Clara dam”

Ministers planning exactly what residents fear

The government is considering lowering the water abstraction quota of the Santa Clara dam, in the municipality of Odemira (Beja), from 104 to 102 for agriculture and from 102 to 100 for human consumption.

The measure was announced by the Minister for the Environment and Climate Action, Duarte Cordeiro, and the Minister for Agriculture, Maria do Céu Antunes, at the end of a meeting held today at the invitation of the mayors of Odemira and Aljezur, with the partners who signed the Water Pact 2023.

Said Mr Cordeiro: “At the moment, the Ministry of Agriculture is making an investment that it expects to be completed by the end of this month, which will safely allow for abstraction at level 100. 

“If abstraction at level 100 is possible, it will be possible to review abstraction at level 102 for agriculture, maintaining exactly the same guarantees that were established in the Water Pact.

“We’re looking to make intelligent investments that will allow us to get more useful volume to always guarantee, between two and three years, water for essential urban consumption, which is what is defined in the Water Pact,” he went on.

According to the minister, the agricultural sector “is willing to consider investing in a private desalination plant”, with the support of the Ministries of Agriculture and the Environment, which “will give the sector resilience”.

Any revision of the quota will only happen “as soon as a new physical capacity comes into operation to fetch water at a lower quota for urban consumption,” he added.

Minister of Agriculture, Maria do Céu Antunes, guaranteed that the government “has asked for accountability in order to better manage” water that is distributed.

“There is an investment being made by the Ministry of Agriculture so that we can collect water below level 104, which will be ready in the next few days, and, on that basis, give stability to all sectors,” she said.

“We mustn’t lose sight of the fact that the level of this dam is level 116 and the (Water) Pact stipulates that we can only spend more if everyone is responsible for contributing to efficient use and thus recovering the level of this dam,” she added.

Among planned investments, Maria do Céu Antunes pointed to the “work to repair the main channel” of the dam, scheduled for the “first quarter of this year” and which “will allow for a reduction in water losses of around 30%”.

“Already today, the Ministry of Agriculture has made the financial means available” for “simplifying procedures” that will allow “reinforcing or installing new ponds” in this territory “to collect the surplus that today goes into the sea”, she added, increasing “the resilience of this system”.

This last point is key, and something local people and environmentalists have been begging for for years. The Santa Clara irrigation system has been notorious for the amount of water it loses into the sea.

This morning, residents were bemoaning the fact that water abstraction levels were almost certain to be reduced. It looks like their worst fears have been confirmed, albeit the ‘solutions’ are being presented as sustainable.

Meantime, the association representing farmers and agricultural producers in the eastern (Sotovento) Algarve have said the planned cuts to their water supplies (70%) will simply mean the death of agriculture in the region. ND

Source material: Lusa