hand under a water tap

Life when water ceases to flow

A few weeks ago, the electricity in our area of the central Algarve failed for around six hours. One of the consequences was that water ceased to flow through the taps! But what if this was not temporary and the drought situation meant that we had to limit our use of water in the longer term?

The scarcity of water in river basins is worrying experts. At the end of September, only 69% of the total volume was stored in Portuguese reservoirs.

According to reservoir monitoring data from the National Water Resources Information System (SNIRH), the amount of water stored in September 2023 was below average in six of the country’s river basins. This represents approximately 36% of monitored reservoirs with water availability greater than 80% of the total volume, while 24% of them have water availability below 40% of the total volume.

Comparing storage at the end of September 2023 with the storage averages for the month of September in previous years (1990/91 to 2021/22), a worrying situation is observed. Most river basins have storage levels below historical averages for this month. Worst affected are the basins of Arade (27.2%), Ribeiras do Barlavento (7.8%) and Ribeiras do Sotavento (28 .2%).

Along with Portugal, neighbouring Spain is in an even more critical situation, which could have more serious consequences on the national territory, in the medium and long term.

Scarce water resources and lack of significant precipitation have seriously affected several regions. However, Portugal continues to feel the impacts of the imminent drought. In particular, the Algarve region, facing structural problems of lack of water, and the lack of investment in sustainable solutions is a cause for concern.

Criticism of water resources management in Portugal has been intensifying. The Associação Natureza Portugal points to the poor implementation of the main public water management instruments as one of the main problems.

The National Plan for the Efficient Use of Water, which has been in the process of being revised for more than seven years, and the flow regime between Portugal and Spain, which is outdated and has several gaps, are just a few examples highlighted by the associations.

Finally, tourism also plays a role in water scarcity. Algarve is a popular tourist destination, and, during the peak tourist season, the region experiences high demand for water. This increased demand can put a strain on the region’s water resources, and this is especially true during times of low rainfall. At the same time, tourists might also be affected, as occurred last summer when some swimming pools were closed, for example.

Bearing this in mind, it is clear that droughts can have significant impacts on agriculture, water supply, and the environment. Therefore, it is crucial to manage water resources carefully throughout the year in order to best mitigate these impacts.

How much water do we use?

Some examples – a water-efficient showerhead uses approximately nine litres per minute, and an older style showerhead uses approximately 19 litres. Having a daily five-minute shower with an older style showerhead uses about 36,500 litres of water a year. That’s roughly the equivalent to a medium-size swimming pool! Family of four – equivalent to four pools!

The next time you see a garden sprinkler, think of this! A typical water sprinkler uses approximately 1,000 litres in just one hour. Just two hours’ use a week would mean a consumption of over 100,000 litres per year – another three swimming pools. Washing a car once a week using a hose can consume up to 400 litres of water – another 20,000 litres of water per year.

With the severe level of drought in parts of the Algarve, especially in the south, it is important to conserve water. These are some tips to do just this:

In the kitchen

If you have to wash the dishes by hand, do it without running water, use the dishwashing sink and/or a double bowl if you have one. Avoid washing vegetables under running water, do it in a container and use this water for other uses (watering plants, toilet, etc.). Try steaming vegetables – in addition to being healthy, steamed vegetables or some fish are very easy to make. So, with the same water (and energy), you can cook two things. Another tip is to use your automatic dishwasher and washing machine for full loads only.

In the bathroom

During your hygiene, while brushing your teeth, washing your hands, hair or body, turn off the tap while you are not using the water. In the shower, while soaping or shampooing, the tap can also be turned off. Reusing the shower water is one of the most effective ways for reducing water consumption. Store those litres of water that would otherwise be wasted. You can then reuse it for the toilet, to water the houseplants, or even to wash the floor.

With flush toilets, we can also save enough water to significantly reduce consumption. First, checking if it has any water leaks. To do this, put dye inside the toilet. If you see coloured water in the toilet without flushing it, then it is a sign that there are leaks to be treated.

The next step is to reduce the volume of water that is released with each flush. If you don’t have a double flush toilet, simply put a full plastic bottle into the toilet flush tank.

Your pets can contribute as well!

Do not throw away your pet’s drinking water when you give fresh water. Reuse it to water the plants.

These may seem small measures for each of us to do, but if everyone contributed, we would significantly reduce water consumption in Portugal.

By David Thomas
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David Thomas is a former Assistant Commissioner of the Hong Kong Police, consultant to INTERPOL and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
In 2011, he founded Safe Communities Algarve to help the authorities and the community prevent crime. It is now registered as Associação SCP Safe Communities Portugal, the first national association of its type in Portugal.
913 045 093
[email protected]