No new boreholes”: government announces measures to tackle drought in southern Portugal

Stopping the drilling of new boreholes and promoting the use of treated wastewater in agriculture and tourism are the main measures suggested by the Portuguese government to tackle the country’s state of drought which is particularly dire in the Algarve and Alentejo.

The announcement was made by the Minister of Environmental and Energetic Transition, João Pedro Matos Fernandes, at the end of an Interministerial Drought Commission meeting on Wednesday.

“This drought is a structural problem. We must change the way we consume water in Portugal,” he told reporters.

Fernandes explained that the drought is much worse in the south of Portugal and that both the Ministries of Agriculture and Energy will take part in meetings with local councils and representatives of the agriculture and tourism sector, particularly from the golf industry, on Saturday, November 30 to discuss these issues.

To minimise the effects of the drought, particularly in the Algarve and Alentejo, the minister announced the suspension of “new groundwater boreholes in the south of the country”.

The government will also start promoting the use of treated wastewater for the irrigation of golf courses and agricultural lands. As Fernandes pointed out, it can also be used by local councils to clean the streets and water gardens.

“If we have less water, then the amount of water that we use has to be lower,” Fernandes said, adding that the government is closely monitoring the most “critical situations” in the south.

While dealing with the ever-increasing frequency of drought is something new for Portugal, Matos Fernandes says the country is much better prepared now than it was just two years ago.

“When we faced the drought of 2017, we were objectively not prepared for it, we didn’t have any common working habits. Not only at a political level, but even our services,” he said.

After 2017, when over 80% of mainland Portugal was affected by a severe drought, the government “learned how to deal with the problem, namely by transferring water from areas where there is more to areas where there is less”.

Agriculture Minister Maria do Céu Albuquerque said the agriculture industry also has to come up with “concrete measures” to tackle drought and added that the sector is willing to work together to find short- and long-term solutions that guarantee sustainability.

She also said “technology could pave the way to a more efficient use of water in Portugal”.

Algarve municipalities request community funding

António Pina, President of the Algarve Municipalities’ Association (AMAL) and Mayor of Olhão, has reacted to the government’s announcement by calling for more investment and community funding to help the region change its water consumption habits.

“If the government thinks that the Algarve’s drought issues are becoming structural problems instead of cyclical, then investments need to be made to give entities the power to act,” he said, naming community funding as a potential way of doing so.

As he pointed out, these kinds of investments are “very costly” and regional water company Águas do Algarve and local councils need some form of funding to carry them out.

Pina only recently suggested desalination as a way for the Algarve to overcome its water shortage issues (click here).

michael.bruxo@algarveresident.com