AMAL leader challenges government to “stop fooling us”
With the costs of water to start increasing across the Algarve from March, president of AMAL – the region’s intermunicipal community – has challenged the government to ‘be honest’ and stop trying to fool everybody.
“No more half talk, don’t keep fooling us. Enough of always fobbing the Algarve off – because if you go on this way, tourism will follow agriculture”, António Pina, also mayor of Olhão, warns – referring to the crisis among agricultural producers, particularly citrus farmers, who are watching their crops dry up in front of them.
“And when tourism is affected, we will have a huge social problem. Economic and social. It would be the abandonment of the Algarve”, he said in interview with Expresso.
In Pina’s mindset, ‘measures’ outlined this far by the government do not, and will not, solve the Algarve’s problems.
The plan this far is to use PRR (European recovery and resilience) funding to construct a water catchment plan from the Guadiana river at Pomarão – a plan years old, and consistently delayed; the construction of a new dam in Foupana (ditto when it comes to how many years this has been delayed) and of a desalination plant in Albufeira (which local residents have already interpreted as environmentally damaging due to the intention to deposit toxic by products created in the process back into the sea…)
None of these projects, when (and even if) completed, will be sufficient to answer the Algarve’s needs if rainfall continues in its current scarcity.
“We need access to the water in Alqueva”, stresses Pina. Alqueva being the Alentejo dam currently at very high capacity.
The entire consumption of the Algarve translates into less than 1% of the water stored in Alqueva dam, Pina told Lusa.
In other words, it’s time for the government – or rather a future government – to really come up with intelligent, sustainable solutions.
Meantime, authorities will start charging households more for the water they consume, from March.
The increases do not sound too drastic. As Pina explained, if families save 15% of current usage (as they are being encouraged to do), they will end up spending no more on water than they do today.
He outlined the increases – which will vary from municipality to municipality – emphasising that without real effort, the region risks running out of water by “August or September”…
Essentially, anyone on what is known as the ‘1st scale’ of consumption (using no more than five cubic metres per month) will not pay any extra for their water. Those on 2nd scale, which is the majority of Portuguese families (consumption up to 15 cubic metres per month) will pay an added 15% for their water; those on 3rd scale (up to 25 cubic metres per month) will be charged 30% more, and those on the 4th scale – a scale Pina describes as “unconscionable” – would face paying 50% more.
The municipal leader described the 3rd scale as the kind of water usage that goes beyond the needs of a family: “someone who has a garden, a pool and washes their car by the door”.
People whose water usage creeps into the 4th scale, would have to be those with “a very large garden and a very large pool”, he said.
These charges will apply to every sector: domestic, commercial, tourism and industry, and be accompanied by ‘awareness campaigns’ to educate on the importance of saving water to the maximum.
Fines to come in ‘second phase’ of Algarve’s battle to retain water
“To reach the objective determined by the government” (ie to get to the end of the year without running out of water) “in a second phase, fines will be adopted for those who continue to have consumption considered excessive”, explains Expresso.
“Municipalities will be obliged to hit established targets”.
“If a citizen fails to reduce his/ her consumption in a month, in comparison to previous usage, he/ she will get a yellow card. If they fail for a second month, the water supplied to them will be reduced”, Pina explained – adding that an investment of €40 million is ‘underway’ to plug leaks in the distribution networks of different municipalities, but even this can only hope to plug a 10th of the amount of water that is lost annually in the region.
The bottom line is the Algarve needs ‘other solutions’: sustainable solutions, like ‘water pipelines’ constantly mooted, but this far rarely apparent consideration.