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Water in Portugal’s rivers ‘losing quality’ due to drought and monocultures

APA has sounded the alert – coincidentally shortly after ‘experts’ published an opinion article on a similar ‘danger’: the quality of Portugal’s water is under threat, and it’s not just due to long periods of drought. It has to do with unsustainable farming practices. In other words, monocultures.

A bit like the citizens group that formed recently in the western Algarve to try and save the area from the consequences of intensive avocado farming (click here), APA has discovered how quickly the quality of water is declining.

Five years ago, 53% of water found in national rivers was considered ‘good’. That percentage dropped in three years to 46%.

Efforts now are to reverse the trend. APA’s vice-president Pimenta Machado told Expresso the areas worst affected are those around the Tejo, Douro and Vouga – while the Algarve is actually already showing signs of improvement, in spite of the drought.

Pimenta Machado made no mention of the Alentejo – where intensive farming practices have seen vast swathes of countryside covered in plastic greenhouses – but a group of experts focused on this part of the country to warn last month that as a result of monocultures and ‘intensive practices’, the sustainability of farming generally in the Alentejo is now ‘at risk’.

Explains the group – made up of agronomists, hydrogeologists and environmental engineers/ landscape architects – the problem is made worse by public policies for the management of water management.

The Alentejo sees water actually subsidised for certain agricultural practices.

This means that irrigation is concentrated in a “very restricted area of the territory, with very high infrastructure and water transport costs to guarantee fast and very profitable production but only for a very small number of large companies.

“At stake is sustainability and equity of access to water” for everyone else in the region, says the group, stressing that “unless priorities in water management and soil functions are revised, with fairer and more rational distribution and support going to various economic agents, the sustainable cohesive development of territories and populations will be at stake, as well as the maintenance of biodiversity and the quality of the landscape”.

This is exactly what the citizens of Barão de S. João, near Lagos, have been trying to ‘shout from the rooftops’ for the last few years. But this time it comes from respected Portuguese ‘experts’ attached to leading universities who were given column inches in one of the country’s ‘quality weeklies’.

The message, in other words, will hopefully carry clout.

For the full text (click here).

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com