Police called to quell new citizens protest against water-guzzling monoculture

GNR police were called to the usually sleepy village of Alte (in the borough of Loulé) last week when citizens mounted a protest to highlight how water is literally being taken from their community to feed a 120-hectare monoculture.

As a result of ‘the diverting’ of Alte’s little river, the ‘Vigário waterfall’ that attracts thousands during the summer months has been left to run dry for “long periods of time”, complain angry residents.

Thus the decision to first mount a symbolic protest to try and stop the siphoning off of water (to which police were called) and then the staging of a larger protest to coincide with a local music festival which attracted hundreds of people yesterday (Sunday).

Says Lusa, around 50 locals waved banners and placards carrying slogans like “water belongs to the people” and “biodiversity yes, monocultures no”.

GNR police were on hand to ‘watch’ this second protest, following the first in which what Lusa dubs ‘a more radical group of activists’ blocked the sluice-gate (leading to the monoculture) with sacks of sand and cement.

Suzy Lucas, one of the organisers behind the protests, told Lusa that the diverting of water is putting the entire local ecosystem at risk, and killing many species.

Instead of effectively hijacking the water, residents want the company running the monoculture (that produces oranges) to “manage water flow in articulation with the local parish council”.

This may actually happen, says Lusa, as the parish council claims “there are documents from APA, the Portuguese environment agency, that say the firm can use water but has to guarantee that water reaches the Vigário waterfall”.

António Martins, president of Alte parish council, told the news agency that up till now “the company has basically been saying it owns the water and can divert the little river whenever it needs to to irrigate the oranges”.

He added that this sense of ownership extends to the company being prepared to “deprive the population of water if the oranges’ survival is at risk”.

Stressing the existence of the APA documents safeguarding supply to the waterfall, Martins added that “in times of drought and in the summer, water use must be articulated with the parish council”.

“The businessman responsible for the exploration of these oranges has always refused to articulate over the water with the parish council, saying the water is his and that he doesn’t have to articulate”, Martins lamented, stressing that his entity is right behind citizens in this fight.

From now on, Martins vows that his parish council will be intervening “to guarantee water reaches the waterfall” – whatever the orange producer may claim.

At this point Lusa has not ‘named’ the producer or his company diverting Alte’s water, though this may well become clear as the week continues.

Concerns over water usage are commonplace when it comes to communities surrounded by monocultures (click here).

Only a few months ago, a European Court warned of the potentially devastating consequences of allowing intensive agriculture and monocultures in Portugal (click here).

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