The Algarve’s câmaras, hotel owners and environmentalists have all declared themselves shocked by the warning issued by the Minister for the Environment that water could be rationed in the Algarve should there be insufficient rainfall by January 2005.
Luís Nobre Guedes informed parliament recently that, if there has not been enough rainfall to reinforce public supplies by the start of next year, it could be necessary to begin rationing water in the Algarve. “If the level of rainfall registered is not the amount required by January 2005, a dry spell contingency plan must be put in place from March next year,” declared the Minister, who considers the situation to be “very serious”. If this happens, and “it could happen”, advised Nobre Guedes, “there will have to be water rationing in the Algarve”.
Monchique Câmara President, Carlos Tuta, reacted incredulously to the Minister’s statement, saying he thought it was “stupid”. “To come out in public and say that water is going to have to be rationed is ridiculous. It is going to be very interesting to hear the opinion of the tour operators and the public,” he said.
for tourism and the economy
Elidérico Viegas, President of the Algarve Hotel Association (AHETA), feels that the minister must think about the consequences of his declarations. “This would have disastrous consequences and I hope that this is not going to happen”, he warned. “Water rationing would obviously provoke instability within the tourism market, with terrible consequences for companies and for the country’s economy.”
However, Luís Nobre Guedes believes that the beleaguered Barragem de Odelouca is the solution to guaranteeing water supply to the region. He explained that, at the moment, underground water is the main source of water for the Barlavento, but that levels are dropping dramatically.
According to the minister, this means that there will have to be an increase in the use of collected surface water to supply the public. “The approval of the hydraulic dams of Odelouca/Funcho is a vital element for sustaining the system,” Nobre Guedes said.
However, work on the Odelouca dam came to an abrupt halt last year after the Nature Protection League issued a complaint to the European Commission, alleging that the dam would have a negative environmental impact. All EU funding was suspended and the construction company walked off the site.
Nobre Guedes is extremely worried about the stoppage. “In all, 65 million euros of community funding is suspended for a project in which 22 million has already been invested,” he said. “A solution needs to be found and a compromise made between all parties involved in order to guarantee a balance between the resources of underground water and surface water.”
Meanwhile, Carlos Tuta believes that rationing is unlikely. “The minister must be badly informed because Águas do Algarve has just been speaking with me about the issue and one of the suggestions is to top up the water supply from the Santa Clara-a-Velha reservoir,” he said.
blame golf courses
According to data supplied by the Águas do Algarve water company, the region consumes close to 66 million cubic metres of water per year, 33 million in the Barlavento and the rest in the Sotavento. The huge amount of water consumed is due to the high numbers of tourists in the summer.
The President of the Nature Protection League (LPN), José Alho, believes that the water shortage came about due to the “disorder and lack of protection of water resources”. He points out that several golf courses that are already built and some that are currently under construction are situated over important underground water reserves.
When questioned about the possibility of the LPN retracting their complaint from Brussels, the environmentalist declared “this is not a question. As even if this happened, the European Union would still look at the facts which contravene European Law”.
For their part, Portugal’s ecological party, Os Verdes, has already announced that it will question the Minister for the Environment in parliament about the likelihood of water rationing in the Algarve and how it will affect the population and the region’s golf courses.
According to the party, “the lack of water in the region is worsening due to the fact that the Algarve is an area of intensive tourism, which is linked to leisure facilities requiring large amounts of water, such as golf courses and swimming pools.”
Not so green statistics
Os Verdes cite a study by Algarve University, which indicates that “in 2003, there were 30 golf courses in the Algarve, almost half the number that exist in the whole country. Considering that watering a golf course equates to the use of 10,950 cubic metres of water per hectare and golf courses (with 18 holes) measure 40 hectares, we can calculate that 438,000 cubic metres of water are consumed every year”. According to the party, “this means that the 30 golf courses in the Algarve consume close to 15 million cubic metres of water per year, of which 90 per cent comes from below ground. To make the situation even worse, around 68.5 per cent of these courses are situated in critical areas for the extraction of underground water and only between three to four per cent of the water used for watering comes from recycled water treatment plants”.