Sewage scandal

Contaminated sewage is set to pour directly into the River Guadiana for the next two years. This is because new drains will join existing outlets from Monte Gordo and Vila Real de Santo António that already empty straight into the river. The situation has arisen because Vila Real de Santo António still lacks a residual water treatment centre (ETAR) to deal with sewage in the area.

A new ETAR is being constructed in Sapal do Rato, but it will not be ready for another two years. And it appears that, until the new ETAR is ready, the authorities have opted for what they view as the lesser of two evils – allowing the semi-treated sewage to flow directly into the river.

The president of the Commission of Co-ordination and Regional Development (CCDR), Campos Correia, has described the fact that sewage is to be discharged into the river as an “acceptable transitory solution”. He justified the decision on the basis that it is better to discharge the growing load from drains in the Sotavento area into the river than pour it directly into the sea.

Officials have taken their decision in the light of the fact that both the ETARs in the area, at Altura and Manta Rota, currently empty into the same place – the River Álamo, where the contaminated waste is kept in lagoons, waiting to be treated.

The problem is that these lagoons run the risk of overflowing. “They are reaching bursting point,” admitted Campos Correia. So officials have decided to transfer the load into the Guadiana, something which the president of the CCDR apparently considers an acceptable price to pay. But Vila Real de Santo António’s CDU party,

in power before the Socialists took over in 1997, has criticised the decision. A spokesman explained that the first environmental study on the problem only permitted the discharge of sewage into the Sapal do Rato, after tertiary treatment, implying that discharge into the Guadiana was unacceptable. Others have criticised Campos Correia not so much for permitting the drains to flow into the Guadiana, but because of the delay in building a new treatment centre. As for the risks to the environment, Campos Correia sees no cause for alarm, since he says the Guadiana has great capacity for diluting the contaminated water.

One thing that all the parties concerned do agree about is that there is a lot of sewage in need of treatment in Vila Real de Santo António and the ETARs of Altura and Manata Rota have already reached full capacity.