Portugal “cannot afford” to hand over water from the Alqueva reservoir in the Alentejo to farmers in Spain due to the country’s prolonged drought, the president of the Association of Young Farmers of the South (AJASUL) has said.
Speaking to Portuguese news agency Lusa, Diogo Vasconcelos expressed his concerns over the news that the regional assembly of Andalusia in Spain had approved a “non-legislative proposal” – that is, a recommendation – requesting water from Alqueva due to the country’s own drought.
This desire to transfer water from the Alqueva to Andalusia, specifically from the River Guadiana downstream of the reservoir, has also been expressed by farmers themselves in that part of Spain.
“I don’t understand why we should give away the little stored water we have, in one of the few places we have to store it, to Spanish farmers, when the Portuguese are also short of water,” said Vasconcelos.
Pointing out that Portugal is also faced with the challenges posed by “a very long period of drought” – with a major “lack of water and storage capacity” – Vasconcelos argued that the country “can’t afford” to give away or sell the water it has stored.
“I hope it’s just a piece of news,” he said, arguing that ceding or selling water to Spain “won’t solve the country’s water shortage problem, but will make it worse.”
In Portugal, he noted, the effects of climate change “are real” in that “it rains less and less often” – which in turn means that there is a need for “transfers (between water basins), reservoirs and a series of investments to cope” with droughts.
He added that the issue of handing over water form Alqueva to Spanish farmers is also “a matter of national defence” because, faced with a possible “serious water shortage in the Alentejo, the only solution is Alqueva.
“The Monte Novo dam, which supplies Évora, is supplied by Alqueva and, if there were no Alqueva, there would be no water in Évora in years like these,” he pointed out.
Contacted by Lusa, the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Action (MAAC) replied by email that it had not received “to date any request” from Spain regarding the transfer of water from Alqueva.
“Portugal is negotiating with Spain to define the flow regime in the Pomarão section of the River Guadiana” – that is, downstream of the reservoir in a section of the river in the municipality of Mértola, in the district of Beja,” the ministry said.
The president of the Alqueva Development and Infrastructure Company (EDIA), José Pedro Salema, told Lusa on October 16 that the reservoir – which is Europe’s largest artificial lake – has enough water to also supply its Spanish neighbours, but warned that there were shortages of water all round, and that what is transferred will no longer be returned.
“Water doesn’t multiply,” he said. “If it goes one way, there’s less guarantee that it will remain to serve customers in the future. The blanket is short: it either covers your feet or your head.”
Andalusia’s regional assembly approved a proposal to request a transfer water rights from Alqueva users to users of the Tinto-Odiel-Piedras and Chanza river basin, as part of cooperation between Portugal and Spain, due to the extreme drought facing the agricultural sector in Huelva province, Público newspaper reported earlier this month.
AJASUL, which has its headquarters in Évora and centres in Reguengos de Monsaraz and Portel, has around 1,000 members, almost all of them in the Évora district.