Environment minister outlines how authorities mean to tackle region’s chronic drought
Environment minister Duarte Cordeiro has said authorities are considering reducing water pressure across the Algarve, and cutting off homes/ properties’ ‘second meters’ (generally used for garden irrigation and replenishing swimming pools) as a way of eking out the limited reserves of water that still exist.
It has already been explained that, even with restrictions, the Algarve is unlikely to have water for more than the next few months unless it rains significantly before the long, hot summer (and arrival of millions of tourists).
Measures under discussion at AMAL (the intermunicipal community of the Algarve) in Faro yesterday, are being studied, said Cordeiro, “to maintain hydric efficiency, without causing the territory any calamity”.
The problem is that for certain producers, like citrus growers, calamity has already arrived. Expresso’s front page this week runs with a story “In the Algarve there is no longer water to save the organges”.
Explain reports, decisions will be fully defined by the interministerial commission on drought, which meets next week. They will then need to be ‘ratified’ by the Council of Ministers.
Cordeiro said yesterday that measures to reduce urban consumption by 15% (meaning water for residents and tourism) are still being worked on, but “the most evident is the reduction of pressure”.
This may sound ‘simple’, but authorities will have to take on board the fact that hundreds of thousands of homes work on ‘esquentadores’ (gas boilers) that require a certain level of water pressure to ‘click’ on to ensure hot water
Suspension of second water meters
This is the second most likely option under discussion. Second meters are often held by large properties that separate irrigation/ outside pool maintenance from the house water supply.
Cordeiro added that a third measure being considered is to ‘penalise those who use the most water’ (with higher charges).
When it comes to tourism, he said the sector has taken on the challenge of reducing urban consumption “in the best possible way, realising that reaching 15% means increasing the quality of the Algarve’s tourism offer”.
But with regard to agriculture – responsible for the consumption of around 135 cubic hectometers last year – there can be no ‘best possible way’ of facing cuts of up to 70% (70% from the Odeleite dam, 50% from the Funcho-Arade dam).
“In discussion with the agricultural sectors, we came to the conclusion that we would have to make water available to guarantee the survival of species, trees and agricultural crops, with an impact that is being assessed and measured to understand how we can support this sector,” said the minister.
Duarte Cordeiro said that a working group has been set up, led by the Hydrographic Region Administration (ARH), the Portuguese Environment Agency (APA) and the Coordination and Development Commission (CCDR). This will ‘monitor all water management measures’.
“I believe that together we will achieve this goal (of water reductions)”, said Cordeiro. “From the point of view of agriculture, we are aware of the penalties this implies from the point of view of disrupting the sector, which is very important and has a significant weight in the region,” he admitted.
In spite of the multitude of specialist warnings that desalination is not the answer (it will be cripplingly expensive/ damage the environment and cannot hope to produce more water than is already lost through poor maintenance of the existing network), this government at least is intent on ploughing on with the idea of a desalination plant, using PRR funding, opening the relevant tender later this month.
A long-advocated water transfer plan from the Guadiana river (known as the Pomarão project), is not scheduled to move forwards (to tender stage) before September.
Critics rail that the government has been asleep on this drama for the best part of eight years (rainfall has been falling steadily in the Algarve for a decade). Now, as the lowest reserves in reservoirs and aquifers are undeniable, the minister admits the outlook over plentiful rainfall is “pessimistic”.