Monte da Rocha reservoir “doesn’t even look like a dam”
The Monte da Rocha reservoir in Ourique provides water for the entire Baixo Alentejo but is down to 9% and has not been filled for a decade, reports Lusa, stressing nonetheless that those locals believe it still has “plenty of water for several years”.
The Portuguese Environment Agency (APA) monitors 75 reservoirs, and according to data updated last week, most of them (40) had a capacity of between 81% and 100%.
Three reservoirs however stand out with less than 20% of their water capacity – all of them in the south of the country: Bravura (12%), north of Lagos, Campilhas (10%), in Santiago do Cacém, and the worst, Monte da Rocha at 9%.
Built for human supply and irrigation, Monte da Rocha has not released water for irrigation this year because of its low level. It serves the municipalities of Castro Verde, Ourique, Almodôvar, Mértola and Odemira, which in total have more than 50,000 inhabitants.
In February this year, the tender was published for work that will bring water to the dam from the much larger Alqueva reservoir. This is, scheduled to happen in 2025. But locals like Manuel Caetano do not believe it will happen anything like this quickly.
Says Lusa, Manuel has owned Restaurant a Rocha, right in front of the reservoir, for 42 years. The last time he remembers seeing it full was in 2013. “Since then it’s always been going down”.
What was once a great reservoir of water brought by the River Sado for irrigation and for the people of five municipalities now has small lakes in the centre, far from a campsite that once offered water sports and far from the village of Chada Velha, which “used to be an islet when the dam filled up”, recalls farmer and Ourique town council worker, Adílio Guerreiro.
It is hard to believe that these small, scattered lakes supply water to five boroughs – but Manuel Caetano, who has spent years beside the dam, guarantees that there will be no lack of water in the coming years.
Ilídio Martins, president of the Association of Irrigators and Beneficiaries of Campilhas and Alto Sado (Alto Sado is another name for Monte da Rocha), based on technical data, “guarantees the same”, says Lusa. The association is responsible for managing the reservoir, and according to Martins, “there will be no shortage of water.
“We have a reserve for another year, but we hope that the reserve that is there will be increased with some rain, and that there will be rain next winter – because it would be very bad if there wasn’t,” he said.
For now, Monte da Rocha doesn’t even look like a dam. The grass grows and dries on the banks and in the riverbed. Where there should be water, reeds, cistus, heather, brambles, and at least one small pine tree has taken hold – a sign that the water has not covered the land for a long time.
The watermarks are visible on the banks, some with dates that Manuel Caetano knows by heart.
Sitting on the terrace of the restaurant, in a heat that lingers into the early evening, no longer alleviated by the water, Manuel Caetano says that there are still people who fish in the dam, but nobody takes boats out anymore. “Now it’s no longer a pleasure”, he said, recalling times when the dam was a place of tourism – when the main road to the Algarve used to pass by his door, when the restaurant was always full, with cars and buses parked around it. “In those days, we were open day and night and couldn’t even close”, he told Lusa.
“Unfortunately, we have this bad luck of nature”, another local joins the conversation.
Nature’s bad luck also affects the 450 members of the “Associação de Regantes” (Irrigators’ Association), who have no water to irrigate this year. “We’re one of the few associations in the country that can’t irrigate due to lack of water”, laments Ilídio Martins.
The association covers the municipalities of Santiago do Cacém, Odemira and Ourique, but Ourique has practically no water to irrigate, and part of Santiago doesn’t either.
The association manages five reservoirs, including two of the country’s three that are “in the red”, Campilhas and Monte da Rocha. Campilhas was last filled in 2013, and this year’s water is only for emergency irrigation and to supply water to farm animals. Solutions for Campilhas, for now, depend on the heavens.
Monte da Rocha is a little different. Ilídio Martins says it may have only 9.5 million cubic metres of water left, but with the public tender open for works to link up to Alqueva, water could start replenishing it within two years. Emphasis nonetheless remains on the word ‘could’.