Water may start being rationed in Algarve by January

Authorities in Algarve are considering rationing water consumption if the region’s drought situation does not improve in the near future.

“If it does not rain in October, November, or December, I believe that by January or February of next year we will have to enforce restrictive measures for everyone. Essentially, the goal will be to make the most of the little water we have for a longer period of time,” said António Pina, president of the Algarve Municipalities Association (AMAL) and mayor of Olhão.

The possibility was discussed by Pedro Coelho, president of the Algarve Hydrographic Region Administration (ARH) – the regional branch of the Portuguese Environment Agency (APA) – at the last AMAL meeting in July.

“He explained the many scenarios and asked for the collaboration of all municipalities, because numbers show that there has been a 15% increase in urban water consumption in the last two months (compared to the same period in 2019), which does not normally happen during periods of drought,” said Pina. “Consumers need to become much more aware,” he added.

All 16 Algarve boroughs have decided to close their municipal pools in August, shut down water fountains and reduce the watering of gardens and green spaces, “sometimes in a radical way”.

In Olhão, between 80% and 90% of grass will be replaced (after it dries out) by native species that require less water and are more resilient and better adapted to periods of drought.

“It’s not just about saving water,” said Pina. “It’s also about alerting the population about the gravity of the situation.”

Another warning sign is the dwindling water level at Odelouca dam, which could spell serious trouble for water availability in the Western Algarve.

Authorities are attempting to improve the intermunicipal supply system with European funding from the Plan of Recovery and Resilience (PRR).

Desalination will also play a key role in addressing the region’s increasingly chronic situation of drought.

According to Pina, seven locations for a desalination plant were pitched which have since been narrowed down to two – one in Albufeira, “near the border with Loulé”, and another in Odiáxere, Lagos.

The plant will be subjected to an environmental impact study and will need to be located near the sea, far enough away from any environmentally sensitive areas but near a lift station.

“If we look at the Algarve coast, the Sotavento (Eastern Algarve) has two sensitive areas which are the Sapal de Castro Marim e Vila Real de Santo António and Ria Formosa. In the middle, we have Trafal and Almargem in Loulé, Lagoa dos Salgados in Albufeira, the future Marine Protected Area of Community Interest of Armação de Pêra Bay, Ria de Alvor and, in the far west, Costa Vicentina which is also a protected area. If we exclude all of these areas, we are left with less than 30% of the territory’s seafront,” said Pina, adding that the choice of location will revolve around avoiding these areas.

“The problem is that of all the water that is removed from the sea, half is transformed into drinkable water while the other ends up with double the salt it had,” explained Pina.

“Nothing is lost, everything is transformed. So, we need to ensure that there is no high-value marine life which could have difficulties surviving in the area where this water with excess salinity will be released,” he highlighted.

The desalination plant project will cost around €50 million and be led by regional water authority Águas do Algarve, the goal being to start construction by 2026. However, this deadline may be extended due to the “international context and the collateral damage caused by the war in Ukraine.”

“We all have to speak the truth and seek solutions. At the end of September, the ARH will have to deliver a new state of play. But my point of view is that, without taking into account the so-called dead storage at dams, we only have water until October next year. If it does not rain this autumn and winter, we believe we will have to take harder measures as soon as January 2023,” added Pina.

Original article written by Bruno Filipe Pires for Barlavento newspaper.